A New Era in Publishing

When I was studying the publishing industry, trying to figure out how to get published, one thing bothered me. There you are, a debut author, and because the publisher does not promote you — spending their promotion dollars instead on the big names — your books sit on bookstore shelves or in warehouses until finally the publisher gives up on you and remainders your book. That is the best scenario, because if it is remaindered, at least it will still be available for a time. Generally what happens is that it is pulped. 25% of a publisher’s total output (including your beloved book) is destroyed. This after shipping costs incurred to and from the publisher’s warehouse.

My books, More Deaths Than One and A Spark of Heavenly Fire are being published by Second Wind Publishing, a so-called POD publisher, and because of it, I do not have to fear my novels succumbing to such a fate. Nor do I have to fear an inadvertent error showing up in thousands of volumes. As soon as an error is found, it can be corrected. Because of POD technology, there is no reason to destroy unsold merchandise. There is no reason to stop publishing a novel because it does not live up to the bottom-line demands of the traditional publishing houses.

Small presses today are where independent movie producers were in the late eighties and early nineties. They have the ability to publish books that need time to reach an audience, books that might not appeal to the masses but could still be loved by many (and turn a tidy profit in the process.)

Though POD still has the taint of vanity press, my books did go through a submission process, and I like knowing I was chosen. I like having a say in the editing, the cover choice, the arduous copy-editing. I even like promotion — what I’ve done of it, anyway.

So, new era in publishing? Good for us all. And I am pleased to be a part of it.

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McBooks

The book business is a very thin slice of the entertainment pie graph, but it is still big business. Moreover, it is a business steeped in tradition and antiquated business practices. There is a chance that the recent upheavals “just happened” because of the economy, the high price of hardback books, the younger generation (and even older ones) not as interested in reading. It could also be due to more people buying used books or patronizing libraries.

But I don’t believe it.

I tend to see purpose behind seemingly unpurposeful events. I don’t necessarily think that those at the top of the publishing food chain created this so-called crisis, but I do think they are taking advantage of it; they would be foolish not to.

Innovative technologies, such as the much-maligned print-on-demand (POD) publishing, put the big guys at a disadvantage. True, for now, POD-produced books are more expensive than those printed by major publishers, but that is because the machines are new, very expensive, and in the hands of only a few.

What will happen when these machines become cheap enough that every bookstore owner can buy one? A customer will be able to walk into a bookstore, browse through a catalog or display copies of books, make their choice, and in fifteen minutes the bookseller will hand them their purchase, hot off the press.

For the bookseller, this will mean a cleaner, more profitable shop. As it stands now, 85% of books in a typical bookstore sell less than two copies. It also means less time packing up books for return, less inventory costs, and the ability to offer an unlimited selection.

For the big publishers, it will mean no more costly print runs, no more warehousing overstock, no more returned books, no more shipping costs, no more having to destroy 25% of their product as they now do.

It’s entirely possible that as the technology becomes even more advanced, there will be book vending machines — customers make their choice, the machine prints and binds your books, and there it is. Who knows, there could even come a day when you order a cheeseburger, fries, and shake for lunch, and at the same drive-up window, order a book by Pat Bertram to read while you are eating.

Many people see print books as obsolete, taken over by e-publishing, and that is definitely a possibility, but I don’t think it will happen any time soon. Many readers like the feel and smell of books; other readers, especially older ones or those with failing eyesight, need the print format.

What I do know is that heads of major corporations are not stupid. Why would they put up with the ridiculous expenses of traditional publishing ways if they don’t have to? And with new technologies (some of which, I’m sure, we have yet to hear about) they won’t have to.

The end of the book business? No.

The end of the book business as we know it? Without a doubt.

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The Future of Books: The Problem of Filtering (Part 3)

My guest blogger today is Dale Cozort, author of American Indian Victories. This is the third in a three part series discussing the future of books. Normally I don’t post such long articles, but I thought Cozort’s analysis was too important to edit down. Cozort writes: 

Part one looked at how the filters that keep readers from having to sort through a glut of really bad writing are breaking down.  Part two looked at how authors and readers can adapt to a world where the traditional filters are less uselful. Part three is kind of an “Empire Strikes Back” section.  It looks at how publishers might react to the new environment.  I’m not necessarily advocating these solutions.  I’m saying that companies or individuals may go these routes. 

Publishers could try to restrict the number of books published by raising the cost of entry.  In a lot of industries companies have prospered by making it difficult for competitors to enter the market.  That can be done a variety of ways.  Companies can raise the cost of marketing by launching expensive ad campaigns that only companies with a lot of cash can match.  They can get patents on key parts of a production process.  They can use economies of scale to reduce their costs far below their competitors’ costs.  They can dominate shelf space and exclude their competitors. 

All of those techniques other than maybe patents have been used to some extent in the book market.  None of them are likely to stop the proliferation of small print on demand or e-book publishers or the increase in self-publishing.  Expensive marketing campaigns can drive sales of some books up.  Publishers can’t afford to do those kinds of campaigns for all of their books though.  Lesser known authors with smaller sales potential can’t justify large ad budgets, and they are the ones most at risk from competition with small POD or e-book companies.  Economies of scale do make the cost of production lower for traditional large publishers as opposed to POD publishers but their return policies and the need to maintain inventories eat up much of the savings.  Dominating shelf space works in brick and mortar stores but is less effective at Amazon.com because there are no shelves to dominate. 

Publishers could work harder to establish themselves as reliable brands.  I rarely notice the publisher when I’m trying to decide whether or not to buy a book.  I look for favorite authors.  I look for attractive covers.  I look for exciting concepts.  I sometimes look at reviews.  I don’t recall ever buying or not buying a book based on the publisher. I may be wrong, but I think most readers are like me. 

Publishers may work to change that, marketing themselves as “name brands”-places you can rely on for high quality reading.  That’s tricky because quality in books is very much a matter of opinion.  Appealing reliably to a segment of the book buying public might not be hard, but a generalized ‘high-quality’ is more difficult.  Publishers could and probably should feature their imprint names more prominently on books and in advertising. 

Many if not most small POD and e-book publishers claim to be very selective.  Some of them may be selective, but it will take a while for those claims to be widely accepted by readers. 

I hate to say this, but publishers might also rely more on company owned pen names using a variety of ghost writers, and then promote the pen names.  That’s been done with various pulp and young adult series books from time-to-time, and publishers might extend it to areas outside of series books.  Frankly I hope that doesn’t happen.  Recognition is a large part of a writer’s compensation. 

Publishers may try to differentiate themselves by reinventing the book:  We have Web 2.0.  Why not Novels 2.0?  The idea is that the technology of publishing lets publishers do a lot of things they couldn’t do thirty years ago.  The design and layout of magazines, newsletters and textbooks have changed a great deal since the sixties.  The layout and design of novels really hasn’t.  Companies trying to differentiate themselves from the glut should be asking themselves how they can make novels more visually exciting for a generation with a short attention span, just as textbook makers and magazine editors have done.  They’ll need to do that without running up printing costs too much. 

So what would a “Novel 2.0″ look like?  I have some ideas I’m experimenting with, but I’m sure a professional design team could do better.  The key is to actually enhance the reading experience or at least not get in the way of it, while avoiding page after page of dull black on white that turns off younger generations of readers and avoiding a comic book feel that would turn off more traditional readers.  Good design could enhance the reader’s experience without drawing attention to itself. 

Going to some kind of “Novel 2.0″ design could do a kind of filtering by raising the bar for acceptable book design, making it more difficult for individuals without design experience to make a professional-looking book. 

Novels 2.0 might be easier in e-books.  An e-book doesn’t have to be a simple transfer of an existing book to electronic format.  E-book readers are just specialized computers.  That means that they can potentially do a lot of things that you can’t do on a printed page.  The current generation of e-books may not be able to do all of these things, but eventually the e-book version of a novel could have built in mood music that changes as you flip the pages (I would hate that and turn it off).  It could have a built-in audio-book version with good professional-sounding audio.  That would let you read, then simply switch to the audio version when you had to do something like running errands. 

E-books could have hyperlinks to pop-up boxes that let impatient readers find out more about a character or a town or some event that is mentioned in passing, or even pictures of characters or scenes.  For that matter they could even have small clips of video embedded in the pages at a few crucial points.  An e-book mystery novel could have clues to the mystery hidden in hyperlinks.  It could also have “Easter Eggs”-little hidden touches that could only be accessed by a special combination of buttons.  Easter Eggs are common in computer software and DVDs.  They’ll probably become popular in e-books too.  Readers might find an alternate ending that they never knew was there, deleted scenes, insights into some of the characters, backstory, or historical notes.  Some brave authors might even include earlier drafts of the novel as Easter Eggs or additional content. 

E-books could also have more color illustrations.  Adding color to a print book adds to the cost of printing.  In an e-book the only cost would be the illustrator.  E-books wouldn’t have to be restricted to black on white print color schemes.  Without the restrictions of having to be printed, pages could be as eye-catching as web-pages. 

All of these “Novel 2.0″ ideas might make it more difficult for an individual or a small publisher to create a state of the art book.  They would also raise a publisher’s costs.  Getting a state of the art novel 2.0 ready would require a person capable of creating professional-sounding audio, someone capable of making visually exciting interior page designs, probably a professional illustrator, and maybe even someone capable of making professional-looking video clips. 

From a publisher’s point of view, would standing out from the competition be worth the additional costs?  Would readers really seek out books written as Novels 2.0 rather than more traditional books?  How long would it be before little groups of would be writers, designers and illustrators found each other through the Internet and began producing their own Novels 2.0?  They might even produce Novels 2.0 before the big publishers do. 

Unless I’m missing something it doesn’t look like the old ways of filtering out “bad karaoke” writing are going to come back.  Some of the things I’ve talked about may bring back some of the filtering by “raising the bar” of talents you need to have in order to publish a state of the art novel.  Readers will still have to get used to a situation where they have more choice but they also have more junk to wade through. 

The Future of Books: The Problem of Filtering (Part 1)
The Future of Books: The Problem of Filtering (Part 2)

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 Dale Cozort is author of American Indian Victories.  Visit his website at www.DaleCozort.com.

Future of Books: The Problem of Filtering (part 1)

My guest blogger today is Dale Cozort, author of American Indian Victories. Normally I don’t post such long articles, but I thought Cozort’s analysis was too important to edit down. Cozort writes: 

If you’ve been around aspiring writers much you know that a good percentage of them produce the writing equivalent of really bad karaoke.  You also know that there are undiscovered gems out there.  Until recently the book buying public has not had to deal with the ‘bad karaoke’ books.  We’ve probably missed a few gems too.  What we saw in bookstores was filtered.  Sometimes that filtering kept out good books, but it mainly kept readers from wading through an awful lot of crap. 

Like it or not, the filters are going away.  Good books are still being published but they are hard to find among increasing amounts of drek.  Readers, authors and publishers need to figure out how to deal with the glut.  If we don’t the book market will continue to spiral downward, with more writers pursuing fewer and fewer readers.

The key issue for readers, authors and book publishers is going to be how to replace the traditional filters and get high quality novels together with their audiences.  

In part one I’ll look at what has happened to the traditional filters.  Past two will look at potential replacements. 

So what have the filters been and why are they going away? 

Filter One: The Expense Of Putting Together a Manuscript: Until recently putting together an acceptable manuscript was difficult and expensive.  Personal computers and affordable laser printers made writing a novel and putting together a manuscript much easier.  Before  affordable PC and laser printers you didn’t just have to write the novel, you also had to type up the manuscript, then retype revisions, a slow and cumbersome process that kept many would-be novelists (including me) from ever sending a completed manuscript to a publisher. 

Affordable computers and laser printers let more people write novels.  Established writers could write faster.  The result was empowering.  A lot more people wrote a lot more stuff.  The result was also disastrous.  The publishing industry simply couldn’t deal with the increased flow of manuscripts.  That brings us to filter two.. 

Filter Two: Publishers: Publishers used to look at the stream of manuscripts coming in from aspiring writers and rejected the ninety-nine percent or more that for one reason or another they couldn’t profitably sell.  That took care of most of the ‘bad karaoke’ writing. 

Writers had little choice but to accept the verdicts of the publishers.  Publishing and promoting a book was expensive.  An author could almost never make money publishing a book independently.  Also, ‘subsidy publishers’ preyed on would be authors, charging exorbitantly to print unsellable books.  Most readers correctly felt that self-published books were mostly junk because if a book was any good it would have been published by a real publisher. 

The system worked for the most part.  Authors with enough persistence and skill could find a publisher.  Readers could know that the books they saw on a booksellers shelves usually, though by no means always, met a set of minimum standards.  Publishers prospered in that environment, taking most of the risks and most of the profits from publishing.  Most writers didn’t prosper, though authors who made it through the filters and established a name for themselves could earn a modest living at writing, and a few very big name authors became moderately wealthy. 

Smart publishers made an effort to find the few publishable manuscripts among the “slushpile” of unsolicited manuscripts they received.  That made sense because if they didn’t they not only lost out on a potential profit, but they also handed that profit to their competitors.  Good publishers also took pride in finding and nurturing new talent. 

Several things changed that system over the past several years.  First, the sheer number of manuscripts coming in made even skimming the slushpile more expensive.  Second, many major US publishers were bought out by conglomerates from outside the publishing industry.  They moved to the short-term “what is the bottom line this quarter” thinking that has destroyed so many US industries.  Many publishers also seemed to develop a “who needs talent when we have marketing?” view of the industry. 

Most major publishers stopped looking at unsolicited manuscripts a few years ago.  They farmed that function out to agents.  As the slushpile flood diverted to agents, those agents were also overwhelmed and most of the good ones stopped looking at unsolicited manuscripts too. 

New authors found it harder to get published by traditional publishers.  They also found it easier to take other routes.  Print-on-demand and e-book technology makes both self-publishing and being a publisher much less expensive. 

Some readers still look down on self-publishing and to some extent on being published by small POD or e-book publishers.  Part of the problem is lingering attitudes left over from the old “big publisher versus vanity press junk” dichotomy.  Part of the problem is that a lot of small POD and e-book publishers do publish “bad karaoke” writers.  

Small POD and e-book publishers have little short-term incentive to filtering out the junk.  Being selective can actually hurt a small publisher in the short-term because most novels will attract enough of the novelist’s family and friends to pay the bulk of the (very low) costs of publication. That makes it close to cost free in the short term to take a chance on a new novelist if the advance is low enough or if there is no advance.  Some, but by no means all POD publishers actually charge the author for publication, which gives them incentive to publish just about anything. 

At the same time, POD and e-books are in many ways a much more rational way of publishing books than the traditional publishing model with its wasteful return policies.  Some newer, smaller publishers are finding and publishing gems or at least books that satisfy certain audience niches more effectively than traditional publishers.  Readers who stick exclusively with traditional publishers do miss out on some good reading. 

Filter Three: Bookstores.: Up until the last couple of decades, bookstores acted as an additional filter, with small bookstores owned by people who were also avid readers  Those bookstore had limited shelf space and did not stock books that they didn’t like or think would sell. 

That changed in two waves.  First, bookstore chains pushed most small independent bookstores out of the market by stocking a larger selection and charging lower prices.  That cut out much of the filtering function of bookstores.  More shelf space meant that bookstores didn’t have to be as careful what they stocked.  Loose return policies meant that if a bookstore overestimated many books would sell it was the publisher’s problem, not the bookstore’s. 

The increasing power of the chains also made the market less responsive to local preferences.  A local bookstore had to know what would sell locally and order accordingly.  Owners often knew and talked with customers.  That was much more difficult for chains. 

Second, Amazon.com rose to challenge the chains.  Amazon lists books at very little cost to themselves and do almost no filtering.  Best sellers from big traditional publishers are listed along with self-published “bad karaoke” POD books.  Amazon reviews can give some idea of the quality of a book but they’re fairly easy to game. 

So the traditional filters are disappearing.  Readers can’t find new authors they like among the glut of “bad karaoke” books.  New authors often can’t find a publisher, and often can’t find an audience even if they find a publisher.  Traditional publishers no longer reliably find fresh talent and increasingly rely on marketing rather than talented writers.  That shrinks the market by making books less attractive to younger readers. 

So how can all of that be reversed?  I have some ideas.  They’ll be in part two.

The Future of Books: The Problem of Filtering (Part 2)
The Future of Books: The Problem of Filtering (Part 3)

—–

Dale Cozort is author of American Indian Victories.  Visit his website at http://www.DaleCozort.com

E-publishing , Print on Demand (POD), and Kindle Markets–Are They The Wave Of The Future?

Ms. Danzo writes fiction and has twenty years experience working in Sales and Marketing and has published various articles on a variety of subjects, including articles on professional/fictional writing and marketing. 

E-publishing , Print on Demand (POD), and Kindle Markets–Are They The Wave Of The Future?
by Sia McKye Danzo

For most of us, writing is a driving force within us. A passion. I’ve written and told stories all my life, but have only gotten serious about it the last couple of years. Some of you have been writing for many years.

Our goal, of course, is getting published. Getting noticed by an agent or publisher. We write to entertain others, to take them on a journey. To do that we have to have an audience, which means being published. We’ve worked hard towards that goal. We’ve entered contests, are trying short-stories and articles to build up our credits to get noticed. We’ve used other writers to read our stories and give us back constructive feedback all with the goal of getting published. We’ve queried. We’ve gotten back rejection letters and we sigh. We keep going, yet sometimes it’s discouraging. We get excited about an agent who requests more of our manuscript–almost afraid to hope because haven’t we all been there? Waiting on pins and needles for them to get back to us, hoping that maybe THIS time, it will be the one who gets our story published.

I get discouraged. I know some of you have as well. How many of you have really considered publishing to Print on Demand (POD) publishers or places like Kindle? It’s the wave of the future, I’m sure. One good indication of that is the hoopla with Amazon and e-books. Most major publishing houses have an e-publishing section because of reading the trends. Granted some of the e-books they offer are a bit out there. I know Harlequin has had down loadable stories, for a small price, for some time. I rather think they saw the handwriting on the wall and were testing out the market for e-publishing. They now offer some of their authors through e-publishing and some authors are strictly e-published.

A benefit of e-publishing and POD, is a bigger share of royalties, than with a traditional publisher–but not advances–as a rule. Your work is out there, but not necessarily on the local book store shelves like you pictured in your mind. Unless you are willing to promote yourself and your writing to get it there. You have to market, via blogs, websites, and social networks. Authors have to do that regardless of the medium, but the marketing is pretty much on you rather than assistance from a publisher.

Self-publishing/Vanity Press is where the author paid someone to print their book and not always a good quality of book either in writing style or subject matter. Unfortunately, some negative stigma of Vanity Press books still color people’s perception of e-publishing or Print on Demand publications.

Is e-publishing, not self-publishing, a good thing? Or do you think it’s harmful for an author in the long-run? Some of you have gone that route. What are your experiences now that you’ve done it? Have any of you been approached by an agent or publisher? Have any of you heard of anyone getting picked up by a publisher going this route? Does it count as being published when doing our queries?

Any thoughts?

Writing Without a Reader is Like Kissing Without a Partner.

Print on demand publishers and publish on demand printers. Co-op publishing ventures. Ebook publishers and self-published ebooks. BookSurge and Lulu. Content providers for websites, personal websites. In this brave new world of publication, there is a way for anyone and everyone who has strung words together to be published.

What is lacking is readers. In fact, I would be willing to bet that many writers read less than one or two books a year, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that there are more writers than readers. Whether we like it or not, reading is considered to be entertainment, and the money spent on movies, music, games means less money for books.

The traditional publishing industry is answering this trend by promoting authors rather than titles. If your book is one of a series, you have a much greater chance of being published than those of us who prefer starting with a whole new set of characters for each novel. The publishing industry is also continuing their move toward more blockbuster novels, which stands to reason. It is cheaper to promote a single author than several. They still do publish books from new authors, but it is harder for you as a new author to attract the attention of a publisher, and if by chance you do attract their attention, for the most part they leave you to sink or swim on your own. This could be why so many people are publishing their own books. If you have to do your own promoting, why not reap all the rewards?

The sad truth is that while the self-publishing business is growing, the money earned by most individuals barely counts as an allowance. On average, a self-published book sells between four hundred and five hundred copies, which means that a few people who are good at self-promotion will sell a lot, while everyone else will only sell a few.

The only sane way to deal with this insane situation is to write for ourselves, but many of us feel the same way as John Cheever, who said, “I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss — you can’t do it alone.”

The next best thing is to write a fabulous novel that is so entertaining and well-written that any reader who sees it will immediately fall in love with it and spread the word.

It could happen.

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