Last time, we discussed how our decision about which method we go with for publishing should focus more on our readers’ online versus offline buying habits than on their preference for ebook versus print formats. And we bemoaned the fact that those numbers are hard to come by.
But let’s say we have a vague idea about our readership and their buying habits. What do we do with that information? If our readers are mostly online buyers, is that a clear sign we should self-publish?
Not necessarily. We each have to make the choices that are right for us. Self-publishing is not a good fit for everyone. We don’t all have the entrepreneurial spirit needed to run ourselves as a business.
Also, just like any start-up business, self-publishing requires money—editing, covers, marketing, etc. We don’t all have the ability to invest in ourselves, so traditional publishing’s ability cover the upfront costs can be a determining factor too. Some of us might start traditional to get income flowing to us and then transition to self-publishing. Some might make the decision on a story-by-story basis. Some of us don’t want anything to do with self-publishing no matter what the numbers say.
The New Options Help Traditionally Published Authors Too
However, we can recognize that our power as authors increases as our readership becomes more online based. Whether we want to self-publish or not, that route remains a viable option. Publishers—Big 6 or small—now have to work to keep us. They must provide value in exchange for taking their cut.
“The product is the story. Not the book, not the eBook, not the audio book. The Story.
The consumer is the reader. Not the bookstores, the platform, the distributor, the sales force. The Reader.
Authors produce story. Readers consume story. If anyone is in the path between Author and Reader they must add value to that connection.”
The New Publishing Paradigm: The Power Has Shifted
During her Keynote Address at the RWA 2012 National Conference, Stephanie Laurens shared several slides in her presentation that show how the shift from offline buying to online buying makes this “adding value” concept very clear. In offline publishing, we (currently) need help getting our books into the hands of readers:
You’ll notice authors are a distant third in importance to the publisher. That’s because just as publishers are gatekeepers to authors, distributors and retailers are gatekeepers to publishers due to limited physical shelf space and the possibility of returns. Publishers have changed book titles to make their retailers happy. Without happy retailers, their books won’t make it into stores.
Contrast that linear string of necessary players with the online publishing options:
As Stephanie said in her speech:
“[I]nstead of there being only one way, there are now four – Author to Reader, Author to Publisher to Reader, Author to Retailer to Reader, and Author to Publisher to Retailer to Reader. … [O]nly Author and Reader are essential… Publishers and Retailers, no matter who they are, can never be or make themselves essential.
…[T]o secure a place in our online industry, publishers need to make themselves commercially desirable…to whom? Their customers. But in the online world, who are a publisher’s customers? Who will pay for what a publisher offers – editing, production, distribution and management of sales channels, publicity and promotion? Authors.
…Successful online-era publishers are flexible, responsive, author-oriented providers of publishing services, cost-effectively value-adding to authors’ releases. They are acutely focused on what authors want and provide those services for a competitive fee.”
Publishers placing authors first. Quite different from publishers considering authors a distant third in their priority list, isn’t it? *smile*
Is this wishful thinking? Yes and no. Yes, because most publishers have yet to grasp this change in power. No, because whether publishers realize the facts or not, this is the truth.
Mark Coker of Smashwords reiterated this point in his presentation to the Published Author Network at the RWA conference (that he was kind enough to share on his blog):
All Those Between Authors and Readers Must Add Value
As authors, we have control over our options as never before. Publishers now need us to provide content more than we need them to get our books into the hands of readers. That leaves us in the power position. Especially because I believe the future will offer us opportunities to get our books into bookstores regardless of our publishing method.
Publishers have to prove to us that they can provide value to our publishing efforts above and beyond what we can attain on our own. Publishers need to add enough value to our product to justify their cut.
I hope publishers can make this adjustment. I have stories I still think will be a good fit for traditional publishing, and others I think will be a good fit for a small publisher. I don’t want to see publishers go away.
Successful publishers will focus on things that are important to authors, like:
- making books better (editing),
- recognizing that publishing Snooki-type books hurts their brand in the eyes of authors (their credibility/our desire for validation),
- increasing availability to markets (bookstores, libraries, foreign rights, audio books, etc.),
- improving accountability and payment flow (transparency and frequency of royalties and payments)
- and offering promotional opportunities (access to reviewers, book tours, publicity, etc.).
And they will have to recognize that authors will “pay” (royalty rates) only a limited amount for those services. Their inefficiencies are not our problem. We can decide how much their services are worth to us and judge if the offered royalty rates are fair.
Fair. Respect. Partners. We’ve tossed these words around a lot in the industry lately, but many of us haven’t quite believed in them.
It’s easy to continue thinking in the status quo of agents and editors being the gods of the relationship. But it’s time for us to accept that we are the driver in the publishing industry. Without us, there would be no stories. So just as our protagonists must drive their stories, we must accept the opportunity—and responsibility—of driving our story to publishing success.
As Mark alluded to in his presentation and as Stephanie said outright in hers, “Only Author and Reader are essential.” Go forth and be proud of that fact. *smile*
How do you see the shift to online purchasing changing the game? Have you changed your mind about how to approach your publishing options because of this information? Which publishers do you think have grasped this shift in power? What’s important to you when considering how publishers can add value? What things would make the partnership feel fair to you?Pin It