A Review of Publishing Today

With a title this assumptive, I hasten to acknowledge I possess no lofty credentials or superior access to data upon which to base the ideas which follow. I am not a queen bee, I am a drone. But even the drone bee is cognizant of change in the quality of the honey over a period of time.

Two weeks ago, I addressed a chapter of the California Writers Club, to attempt to describe how I had been drawn to indie publishing, and explain (perhaps to myself as much as my audience) why I have stayed with it. For reference, I turned to the 150 or so blog articles I have written since 2013, when I had truly embarked upon the adventure of writing and self publishing. I took my audience along on my adventure from that year to the present.

Memory serves only to confuse. As I reviewed my past articles in preparation for my talk, I was startled to find how much I remembered wrongly, or at least remembered only partially. I have seen myself as a Don Quixote tilting against the windmills of the large publishing houses on behalf of the little known but not untalented midline writer. What I forgot was the hundred or so query letters I had sent to those very houses on behalf of my first Zack Tolliver, FBI novel THE OTHER. My near misses included an acceptance and subsequent withdrawal of that acceptance (the house changed its direction), another acceptance and subsequent withdrawal of acceptance (the acquiring agent left the house for another position), and many similar occurrences. This experience brought me to understand there are many circumstances beyond quality of writing involved in such decisions. It also caused me to wonder how many talented novelists are the best writers we’ve never heard of.

Another area where memory failed is the degree of change in the publishing world. Much has changed, but much has remained the same. While the number of indie published eBooks sold each year grows steadily, so does the world population, yet the ratio of indie published to traditionally published, despite ebbs and flows, hasn’t changed all that much since 2014. What has changed is use, that is, how people read today––with the iPad or smartphone, these busy people read on the go; at the airport, dentist, etc. But back home in the arm-chair, or in bed at night, many still prefer to turn physical pages.

The real change, to my mind, is access to more readers by writers, and access to more writers by readers. Reader rating systems, while faulty (no two readers use them the same way), and reader reviews (ditto) have become essential tools for books, just as they are for all other products. There is a ground leveling quality to all of this; I doubt readers will ever bother to use one method to rate traditionally published authors and another to rate indie authors. All books will be adjudicated by the same readers using the same system, whether authored by Tony Hillerman, or…well…me.

This, in a nutshell, is why marketing plays and will continue to play a huge role in the future of books. Here the large traditional publishing house would seem to have the advantage of large traditional dollars, to spend as they see fit to make the book they bet upon as visible as possible––but probably not mine, or yours. The indie publisher must come to terms with a lesser budget, and learn to pump social media to the gain as much traction as possible.

So what has changed in the past four years and what remains the same?

What is new? Stockpiling eBooks; i.e., buying when they are cheap and shelving them electronically for a rainy day. What is new? A demonstrated desire for faster reads, books of 150 pages or so for that plane ride from LA to NY. What is new? An increasing number of hybrid authors and increasing numbers of eBooks published by traditional houses.

Still true, traditional publishers will need to find a way to compete with Amazon’s 70 percent royalties. Still true, indie publishing is faster, pays better, offers more creative opportunities, and allows experimentation with price and cover. Still true, the best road to success for any author is to write the best possible book, find the best possible cover, and then write ten more of the same.

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