Yesterday I read this article about an author named Amanda Hocking, who has no publisher but sells 100,000 copies of her book a month on the Kindle for between 99cents and three dollars. What interested me most was the comments, with many people there saying this is the end for publishing and that the future lies squarely in digital.
I spent the evening pondering this. Was it true? What will happen in the long term? Could the industry really just die? And what would it all mean for someone like me, a humble editor?
Despite having self-published in the past, the concept is now somewhat worrying to me. With a reported 98% of submitted manuscripts rejected from publishers, there are many authors out there wanting to get their work known. Whereas previously there was very little or nothing these people could do to get their work released, now they can just sell it as an ebook. This is fine in itself, of course; it means good work can be found and purchased, with the author earning higher percentages from their work and consumers spending less. The problem that i see is, in my experience, a lot of those books get rejected for a good reason; indeed as my position now as a self-employed editor, i see a lot of books that require much work before being in a publishing-ready state. And looking at the comments from the article, there seem to be some people who take rejection far too personally and will now be able to release their book while believing it needs no work – and trust me, every book needs work from a detached party before it should be sold.
Where am i going with this? Simple: the daunting reality is that scores of authors will dump their work into cyberspace to be downloaded immediately and at low cost, while possibly bypassing editors. Not only will countless books be bured in obscurity by sheer weight of volume of titles on the market, but there will be a marked increased in the number of poorly written books now available, thanks to authors being able to sell their work commerically without professional advice, an edit or even a proofread. What happens when everyone is a writer and can sell their book with one click? I predict an increase in volume and a decrease in quality.
Is this how it has to be, though? Frankly, i think no, it doesn’t. For a start, in no way do i think the traditional book is going anywhere. Sure, sales may decline but an even plateau will probably be reached at some point, in the same way that people can download music legally but CDs still exist. This works for authors too, because there is a definite sense of pride from seeing your book available in print as well as digitally, and it’s an avenue many writers will continue to pursue.
That being said, however, this is a transition period for the publishing companies and they do need to adapt to the modern age. Whether they like it or not they need to update their modus operandi to incorporate the new way of writing, selling, marketing and, ultimately, buying. When all is said and done, the only reason writers will ever self-publish is because they either get nowhere with publishers or they don’t think they’re getting a good deal.
In my opinion, publishing companies need to embrace the Internet. This does not just mean offer their books on the Kindle or have an email address. If there’s one thing that authors really need publisher for it’s marketing – with no marketing, no one will be aware of a book’s existence, and with no budget it is tough to advertise. So publishers need to utilise viral marketing campaigns, create an author bio page on the publisher’s website, perhaps offer reduced-price digital copies, and generally create a new method of working that unites old with new.
Publishing will not die, but it can make an effort now to change ways in order to keep flourishing. Right now the entire book industry is in turmoil, not just the publishers but also the book stores, so now is a time when the entire system can be recreated in a way that will benefit the author more than it does currently while simultaneously securing a strong future for the publishing companies. If things remain unchanged for too long then it may be difficult to regain much mindshare and confidence, but by showing a commitment now to being flexible and adaptable, we could see an end to the war-of-words between ebooks and physical books, instead seeing them coexist without hyperbole about one killing the other.