Pop culture and the publishing industry

Publishing has changed. In fact it is nothing like it was before. The big publishing houses are failing, and it’s now impossible for an author to make a living, short of signing that million dollar publishing contract, just like J.K. Rowling. The world is ending for creativity and we will all fail.

Publishing has changed. Authors are now in complete control of their own careers, we don’t have to rely on the big publishers, and financial independence is now just a few mouse clicks away, provided we take good care of our marketing.

Okay, I’ve heard both of these recently. I  think both of them are complete garbage. On the one hand, of course you can still make a living as a writer, and as a published writer even. Brandon Sanderson seems to be doing alright, and Hugh Howie rejected self publishing in favour of traditional publishing after a great deal of success. So, traditional publishing is alive and well, and pushing books into bookstores and into the hands of consumers. That’s clearly a path you can take to success. It’s work these days of course. Most publishers don’t take unagented manuscripts. The slush piles don’t exist anymore, and an editor for the most part doesn’t have the power to sign an author. You have to find an agent, which means you have to have at least one sellable title written. It may need rewriting, but the bones have to be there. The agent will tell you if you need to rewrite for them, and usually you do need to. That also means that in a de-facto sense, the slush pile now lies with agents, not with publishers…

On the other side of the coin there are self publishing success stories, some of whom have even discarded traditional publishing after achieving success there. They tend to have less well known names, and you probably can’t buy their books in the airport bookstore. Oh well. Dean Wesley Smith appears to have a six figure income as a self published writer, there are others in his range, and a bunch in the making a living but not getting rich range.

Finally there are small presses. They don’t have the power of the big publishers, or the author control that self publishing gives you, but they handle a lot of things for you, like getting you on distribution channels so your book is available in stores (mind you, self published authors can do all of those things, they just need to spend time and energy on them, time they aren’t spending on writing).

Options. That’s what has happened, we have gained more options. Of course that’s not as new as people think. The publishing industry hasn’t existed for all that long, and before that it was mostly individual booksellers that would print a book. In fact the publishing industry was originally hailed as the death of literature.

Pop culture has a short memory, and every period of innovation, of change, is viewed as the end. Right now it’s the creative industries that are most “at risk”. A lot of that is the Internet. The Internet means you can’t rely on artificial scarcity to make you money. Once something is digital it can be copied, easily and endlessly. Books are information, they can be digital. So, if someone can copy my book I can’t make money on it right?

Well, first a lot of people would prefer to buy my book than to copy it. That’s because they see value in supporting creators. If they support us, we can continue to create, instead of dying in a ditch because we can’t afford food. There’s also more direct forms of support. I have a Patreon account (and once I figure out exactly what goals I have and what rewards I want to offer I will even start to promote it). May artists are using Patreon as their funding model. It’s an old model in fact, just democratized. If you wanted to be a creative, an artist, before modern distribution methods you pretty much needed a patron. Now patrons in the old sense are rare, it’s unlikely a member of the nobility will notice your art and decide to add you to their household, providing you with a living while you create art. However the Patreon model means you can have hundreds or thousands of small patrons.

Finally, you can still sell your work. I make my work available on both my website and on amazon. It’s free on my website, you have to pay for it on Amazon. Why would somebody do that?

Well, it’s available for Kindle, you can just click a couple of buttons and you have an e-book you can read in a convenient form. Once my novel is available, it will be available in a dead tree edition as well. That edition is extremely well suited to reading on the beach or in the tub, or if you just like that kind of thing better than electronics.

So, like I said options. Yes, that means authors have to make more decisions, but the opportunities are greater.

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