Questions for Authors
By Lazette Gifford
Copyright © 2010, Lazette Gifford, All Rights Reserved
Vision: A Resource for Writers has begun its tenth year in production, and I thought it would be interesting to ask authors what changes they have seen in the world of publishing over the last decade.
Below are the two questions followed by the answers from various authors.
1. What are the biggest changes you think have occurred in the world of publishing during the last decade?
2. What's better than it was? What's worse? What would you like to see changed?
C. J. Cherryh
1. The impending shift from paper publication to e-books. Right now publishers think they can do away with expenses of shipping and printing and not pay the authors any more than they have. This is not a good thing for the publishers in the long run.
2. I'd like to see the United States Congress exempt printed matter from the IRS ruling about paying annual inventory, so print runs could be to an economical size. But this stupid decision has already killed the goose faster than you can fix it, and the US publishing industry will be lucky to survive the next 20 years in its current form. Print-on-demand is on its way to putting the nail in the coffin, but even that won’t be the dominant form of publishing within 30 years.
RSS feed blog: http://www.cherryh.com/WaveWithoutAShore
publications: [to come] http://www.closed-circle.net
with Lynn Abbey and Jane Fancher
1. As a journalism teacher, I've noticed an increased focus on multimedia pieces to supplement print text in magazines and newspapers. These days, I teach my feature writing students how to create a professional website, take decent photos, create a podcast, and make a SoundSlide. I nudge them to take video production classes, as well. Skillful writers who can offer editors an article or essay, as well as audio and visual supplements, have a good chance of seeing their work in print. As an author, I learned to create a professional website and made a book trailer to help promote my latest book. More and more authors, put off by the cost of hiring professionals, are learning these skills themselves . . . and they're fun skills to have!
Social media such as Facebook and Twitter has also dramatically changed publishing. I wrote a piece railing against Twitter as a form of journalism for The Chronicle of Higher Education a while back, and the public commentary against my opinion was scathing. While I still don't love the idea of Twitter as a replacement for investigative journalism with its checks and balances, I concede that it's a terrific way for writers to build an audience, find interview sources, and alert people to current events. Having just come from a book tour to promote my new memoir, I'm also inclined to agree with those who believe book tours (unless an author is quite well-known) are much less effective in selling books than, say, a Facebook fan page or blog tour.
2. I'm happy to be able to reach out to readers via Facebook and (ironically) through Twitter, and I'm particularly delighted to be able to keep in touch with my favorite authors through these forms of social media. What's worse about the publishing industry, to me, is the demise of print journalism. I've watched some of my favorite newspapers and magazines--publications for which I've written--go under. While I recognize the value of online publications, I can't deny the joy of holding a magazine or newspaper in my hand. In this age of Kindle and news feeds and podcasts, I'm holding out hope that people will continue to find value in tangible books and periodicals.
Melissa Hart is a journalism teacher at the University of Oregon, contributing editor at The Writer Magazine, and author of Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood (Seal, 2009).
1. Online sales continue to challenge traditional brick & mortar bookstores, although in the current economy, I don't think either version is prospering, but rather just treading water. And, while it's not a new trend, from what I've seen publishers will continue to put more and more effort into blockbuster series while ignoring stand alone novels. Also, the short fiction market has retracted considerably, though this tends to run in cycles, so maybe the next decade will be better.
2. More and more publishers, both magazine and books, are accepting email submissions. Having said that, I think it's harder to sell in 2009 than it was in 1999, primarily because the economy is down and competition remains high. What would I like to see changed? A return to booksellers ordering what theythink would sell and to hell with computerized sales rankings.
1. Like many others, I see the influence of the Internet as the biggest change in publishing. It has been both subtle and overt. Authors have more choices in publication and they also have more ways to reach the public once they are published. Many have learned there are numerous ways in which to stumble and produce unintended 'train wrecks' when they post personal opinions and responses to reviews. The Internet is a dangerous road to travel and some authors don't yet realize that the freedom can sometimes come at a cost of readers.
The next change, after the arrival of the Internet, is the gradual acceptance of the web world by the publishing industry. At first the web looked very much like 'the enemy' since so many people were taking part in pirating of books into electronic format and posting them in places for others to take part in the general orgy of stealing. The dismissal of copyright as anything important by many denizens of the Internet had a negative effect on the older publishing establishments and on many authors who were still depending on sales as a large part of their livelihood. Ebooks were considered either sub-par publications or simply pirated copies of published works.
2. The first good change has been that gradually the established publishing community has come to see the good side of the Internet and of e-publishing. New authors have greatly benefitted by being able to find everything from agent blogs to publisher's submission guidelines. The addition of ebooks to the list of established formats (hard cover, trade, mass market, audio) was inevitable once a generation of readers had grown up spending so much time reading at the computer. The purchase of FictionWise (a large internet ebook distributor) by Barnes and Noble was the true sign that ebook publication had come of age.
The second good change has been the growth of on-line writing communities. There are many out there where writers are willing to help other writers reach their dreams without being taken in by scams. There are some, like Forward Motion, with specific direction -- in FM's case it is professional publication -- and others that are more general and welcome both professional and self-publishing as a goal.
To me, the worst change is the sad rush to self-publish by people who have tainted the idea of self-publishing by putting out books with poor spelling, horrible grammar and no understanding of plot or point of view. This has made the self-publishing industry synonymous with 'not good enough for a real publisher.' Occasionally, something exceptional makes it out of the mire and draws attention, but the few times this happens makes it unlikely that all well-written books will be able to overcome the black marks inherent in the system.
If there were a way to establish the quality of self-published works based on writing ability, then more of the better self-published authors would have a chance at recognition. Right now the self-publishing communities 'them or us' attitude does not help, though. By cutting themselves off from the established writing community, they've also forgone the idea of quality control that would have helped this branch of publishing.
Farstep Station, Available at Amazon.com
1. The development and improvement of on-demand printing technology has made it possible for authors to avoid having to wait years to see their work published. In previous decades, self-publishing required purchase of thousands of copies of a book, making the cost prohibitive for most people. That is no longer the case.
2. In the past, many excellent books may have never seen the light of day because no established publisher would sign them, and the author lacked the tens of thousands of dollars necessary to self-publish. Today, not only have self-publishing costs become more reasonable, but there are distribution channels that wouldn't have been available in the past and the huge marketing potential of the internet, which can be implemented at little to no cost.
On the other hand, subsidy presses eager to make money have misled authors by persuading them such aspects of true self-publishing such as substantive editing, copyediting, layout and cover design, which are best left to professionals, are of minimal importance. As a result, potentially good books are marred by poor production quality on some or all of those levels. It's not enough to simply scold authors and insist the only true way to properly publish is the traditional route. They need to be educated so they are able to make correct decisions with regard to self-publishing.
As for what needs to change, where do I begin? The stigma against any author/publisher who utilizes the new technologies, which is in most cases unwarranted, remains, and those who defend the status quo do so using alleged facts that may have pertained ten years ago but no longer do so. Booksellers, who complain they can't compete against big box stores and online giants like Amazon, need to get over their refusal to consider stocking any book that's not returnable and find ways to work with those who publish via on-demand printing that will benefit everyone concerned.
Authors must take responsibility for learning not just their craft but their business. It's a given that any author, however published, is going to be responsible for the bulk of the marketing for their book, yet there are still those who either do nothing at all to promote or rely on outdated methods that ignore the truly efficient marketing channels. Being a published author is as much a career as being a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher, and anyone who wants to sell books as opposed to just having bragging rights for being published needs to understand that.
Elizabeth K. Burton
The Everdark Wars
The Ugly Princess
1. The growing influence of the internet and the rise in self-publishing efforts strike me as the biggest changes. Given the damage done to traditional publishing by changes in tax laws that penalized the retention of stock, the shrinkage in casual readership due to a rise in competing media, and the disconnect and consolidation in traditional publishing houses, it is inevitable that writers would attempt to leverage the internet in order to distribute their works.
Since the cost of internet publishing can be ridiculously low, the barrier to self-publication (or, perhaps call it temptation) is essentially non-existent.
2. The change is one that has yet to truly play out between "better" or "worse". Right now, the best descriptor is "different". My take on the situation for speculative fiction is that the market is severely abbreviated. The reason for this abbreviation is possibly two-fold:
first, competing media are more enticing for a population that has grown accustomed to immediate entertainment gratification; second, I suspect that that a great many of the books that show up on shelves in bookstores are not really being chosen for their true marketability, but rather for their alignment with editorial foibles.
The move toward web-based distribution of prose is something that can allow both faster response to changing reader interests as well as the potential for authors to conceivably receive more return for their effort. However, the success of such change is directly tied to the popularity of the medium and the ability to "get the word out" about any work. If you add to this the (until recently) vicious indifference of traditional publishing to this brave new world of words as well as authorial and publisher hand-wringing over maintenance of copywrite, it is fully understandable that the onset of e-publishing has been slow.
The rise Kindle the Kindle-app for iPhone have apparently driven a stake into the heart of the anti-e-publishing establishment. Any remaining conflict will, undoubtedly, come down along the much debated
pro- and anti-DRM factions. This begs the question of why any author would shackle themselves to a publisher instead of going straight to the consumer via Lulu or Amazon's do-it-yourself Kindle store?
That answer is easily related to the age-old programmer's maxim:
garbage in, garbage out. There seem to be two types of authors in the world, with blurring between as in all things: the true believers and the doubters. A true believer cannot begin to comprehend the possibility that their work isn't the greater work of words since man began spray-painting bisons onto cave walls with spit and ocher. A doubter cannot conceive of a world in which their words will not be met with ridicule and scorn. The true believer loves the idea of self-publishing and charges ahead without any thought whatsoever of editing, proof reading, or, dare I mention it in polite company, typesetting. A doubter is left in a den of fear, hoping for the consolation of encouraging words and wishing for a true and proven path to publication that will not expose their shaky resolution to the test. Factually, neither generally realizes that the publication isn't the problem: it's the distribution and "push".
Readers, being the fickle creatures of desire and need for satisfaction that they are, don't generally like to go prospecting for decent prose in a cesspool of amateurish tales. Oh, there's the cabal of odd-ducks out there who live for that sort of thing and those people have the most in common with gold prospectors and acquisitions editors: that never ending hope that the next manuscript will the that unequivocal diamond in the midst of pig entrails. As far as a generalized "consumer" of prose goes, those folks a thin slice from which to attempt to wrest success.
This is why, for all the ease that there is in web-based self-publishing, we will continue to see some form of publishing "houses" coalesce in the virtual marketplace. All of the old school players left have made at least half-baked attempts. Innumerable start-ups are trying. Authors with established blogs or web-credit have inordinate and, arguably, over amplified opinions on what should and should not be done. The only truth that will come out of the chaos swirling through between the various potential business models will be who comes out of the fracas alive and making money enough to keep playing. This is the classic and desirable model for a free world, free words, and a free market. Those who best meet the needs of the customer shall prosper. Those who don't will either fail and apply themselves to other endeavors or suddenly be found quoting Marx and whinging for redress in Washington (which has something of the same effect albeit with a generally negative impact for everyone left in the industry.)
The purposes of a publishing house will be what they never have truly ceased to be for the wayward traditionals: they provide a guidepost that readers can use to identify and narrow "types" of fiction that they will most likely enjoy along with an implied guarantee of minimal quality standards. The proof of that pudding comes by doing a little word-association test with publishing imprints. Here, what do you think of when you consider the following house imprint identifications: DAW. Baen. ROC. Bantam. Harlequin. Ace. TOR.
The kinds of books you associate with a particular house or imprint is also how any reader who cares beyond the quality of the cover art considers the house as well.
People who think that sort of thing will pass with the old guard of paper publishing are smoking commie-crack. Markets naturally derive things like this regardless of how anarchic they begin. We will see the same dynamic occur with e-publishing that we have seen with software, search engines, web-browsers, PCs, et cetera, et cetera.
Right now, though, the world is wide open and how the alliances and successes will eventually coalesce is anyone's guess.
1. The biggest changes are in publication by computer, whether it be e-publishing or print on demand. This means a significantly large number of books are out there, although many may only be available in limited markets.
2. The comparative ease of having something published means there's a lot more out there, and a lot more of it is junk. I would like to see the demise of some of the big publishers who produce "gems" from people who aren't writers (Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Stephen King) but it's not going to happen because, as HL Mencken trenchantly observed, no one has ever gone broke underestimating the taste of the American public.
Home is the Hunter
1. Without question, the conversion of much of the reading public to electronic books. The availability of a variety of e-readers now and the ease of downloading books into them has helped to speed this change.
2. E-readers are a lot better and so is their capability to access books. In many ways the ease of working with electronic publishers, especially the quickness of electronic submissions and editing makes it much simpler than dealing with those based in New York. Worse is the proliferation of middle men that have become involved such as Amazon, Fictionwise and others. Why? Because their take of the book price ts down the profit to the publisher and hence to the author. But readers like the ease of getting all the books they want at one place so that's unlikely to change.
1. E-books- Kindle, sony readers…the biggest changes and will obviously grow. Will they replace books---remains to be seen.
2. Better than it was...Hmmm...The quality of the Print. Worse lll Writer's contracts ... Changes-I would like to see all Publishers put up their email contacts with someone manning them to receive email submissions—How they must miss out on great works. And it would save writers a lot of money and time.
The Meltin' Pot From Wreck to Rescue and Recovery, published by the History Press is to be launched on March the sixth, and already released by the Inishowen sub-aqua club who found the B 17 bomber.
Challenge of the Red Unicorn is out in March aswell. Published by