Sunday, August 23, 2009

Is traditional publishing dead?

Like many writers, I’ve been utterly gutted by the changing face of publishing. Watching magazines fold, newspapers go online or go under altogether, and book publishing struggle to find a financially viable place in this ever-changing and nutty world has been devastating.

I’ve taken my own hits. A book I finished writing was canceled within a week of the manuscript being submitted. A crafting website for which I was contracted to write weekly blog posts and tutorials cut all their paid content. I, and my fellow writers, fell by the cyber-wayside.

But you know what? I’m picking myself up. I resold my book to another publisher and like the Six-Million Dollar Man, it’s going to be better, stronger, faster. The blogging gig I had was a terrific experience and my takeaway is a huge online community of supportive writers and crafters.

That, however, doesn’t pay the rent. Out-of-work writers and editors are scrambling to find ways to make coin. When I saw the Seattle Post-Intelligencer cease publication and the Ann Arbor News—a paper in which I was thrilled to be published during college—go softly into that good night, I was dismayed. Kindles initially chilled me to the bone, I’m not gonna lie.

Then I started to see the forest through the trees (the ones that aren’t being chopped down for paper and pulp). I started to see opportunity. I don’t know what publishing is going to look like in a year, let alone a few months, but it will survive. It will evolve into something better, stronger, faster.

Publishing is far from dead; it's being reborn.

More people than ever are reading, be it through laptops, Kindles, or traditional mediums. Content is already starting to shake out, with quality writing separating itself from the chaff through user recommendations and trusted online voices, not through conventional publishing gatekeepers. In addition to having written 20-plus books, I was also an editor for many years, so I value an educated recommendation. But isn’t it just as exciting for a piece of writing to be discovered and embraced by the community you originally hoped to reach, or even by an unexpected readership?

My friend Diane Gilleland, a fellow author and blogger who worked with me on the aforementioned crafting website, has found that putting her considerable talent into e-books is an effective way to reach her community in much less time than traditional publishing can accommodate. And she’s able to reap a quicker ROI since she is, in essence, the publisher. She’s one of many writers who are finding ways to transition successfully into publishing 2.0.

Here's Diane's take on things: "As much as I love my traditionally published book, I find it much easier and more authentic to publish my own work digitally. I see no reason to put good ideas on hold until a publisher decides there's a wide enough market for them. An enthusiastic niche audience is in many ways more fun than a mildly interested mainstream."

As for me, I’m putting the social media experience I’ve gleaned as a writer and author to use as a consultant. Over the years, I’ve discovered effective ways to promote my books and other products, build a strong personal brand, and connect with a community that expands daily. And in a similar fashion, I am helping businesses come out guns a’ blazin’ in this Wild, Wild West of Web 2.0. When the smoke clears, let’s be the ones still standing. Let’s be better, stronger, faster.

To become a more powerful publishing gunslinger, here are a few tips:

For the writer:
  • Certain genres still work in the printed form, such as gift books and children's picture books. Investigate which areas of the bookstore continue to see strong traffic. Retool a book idea to fit into a market that is still drawn to bound books.
  • Explore new mediums to publish your work, such as e-books and monetized blogs.
  • Build your personal brand and develop a strong online community (which will enhance your desirability to a publisher) through the use of various social networking platforms.
  • Write a blog to further solidify your brand.
For the publisher:
  • Embrace alternative channels of publishing. Kindle content may be inexpensive to consumers but it creates another income stream for you and your authors.
  • Create a strong social networking presence to build a loyal community around your company and your authors.
  • Use every possible avenue online to market your books. This includes blogs, forums, chat rooms, e-mail blasts, Facebook fan pages, YouTube videos, aggregate sites, and Twitter.
  • Once you set up profiles and accounts online, actively participate by posting interesting content and connecting with your community.
  • Partner with authors to achieve wide-ranging online publicity. We have skills far beyond being fabulous writers.
For more on the state of publishing, give a listen to Diane's Craftypod podcasts about publishing, here and here.


Bob Mayer said...

I agree with all of this. Traditional publishing has got to change also. I've been in this business 20 years and the mindset is a century old. I'm trying to pitch my Warrior Writer concept to agents and editors and they just don't get it. They don't see any need to invest in 'training' authors. So we will continue with 90% 'fail' rates on first novels until those publishers go under.

Jennifer Worick said...

Even 6 years ago when I worked in publishing, authors were becoming increasingly responsible for marketing themselves and bringing a lot of marketing and publicity tools to the table from the get-go. Now it's even more critical for writers to establish a brand and cultivate a strong community prior to publication. As if we didn't already have enough to do. Sigh...

Chris said...

I love my paper books. I don't read things comfortably from a screen. I often print out longer blog posts when I'm visiting blogs. But I realize that there are excellent opportunities and reasons for change, and I am increasingly supportive of the changes from print to screen.

My biggest concern about this period of flux is that most of us are being fairly passive about how we support it. We're eager to adopt a new technology habit, while remaining uninformed or unaware of where it's coming from. Specifically, I am suspicious of any one vendor supplying a technology, and Kindle seems to be so easily accepted as the way to go--because it's the only way to go. Sony Reader is effectively dead. Putting all our power in the hands of one vendor, Amazon, no matter how 'service oriented' they may seem to be, is always dangerous.

When one supplier has more and more power to determine what information we have access to, that is not freethought. That's the road toward mental slavery, not to put too strong a point on it.

I'm hoping that Amazon and its property Audible are not going to remain the only viable suppliers of paperless literature, because power always corrupts, and absolute power corrupts... well, you know.

I love the eBook thing. And I agree with Diane about the niche audience vs the mainstream. The knowledge that control can continue to rest in the hands of some enterprising and creative entrepreneurs makes me feel better, and more hopeful, that more people will have more choices about who and what to support.

Jennifer Worick said...

Chris, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I am curious to see how everything shakes out. My personal monopoly beef is with the partnership between iPhone and AT&T. Between the two of them, I've made a deal with satan and beelzebub.

Patty Chang Anker said...

Hi Jen, If anyone is capable of reading (and succeeding in) the new publishing landscape, it's you! To succeed these days you need to be tireless in learning new technologies and networking on every level, which you're amazing at - you could teach courses on this stuff. It's empowering though, isn't it - to take some of these matters into one's own hands?

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