Posts Tagged future of publishing

A Look Back at the Evolution of Publishing, Predictions That Came True & What This Means for YOU

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

Ah, a New Year is before us. What is the future of publishing? What lies ahead for writers? Will Snooki have another baby? After consulting my team of advisors, those being the voices in my head, I’ll toss my predictions in the ring tomorrow. Granted, much of what I predicted last year has come to pass. A lot of it, I think still will happen but I have a history of being so far ahead of the game, people think I’m bonkers (ok, I am).

Note to Self: Perhaps wearing tinfoil hat impairs professional credibility.

Before I give any predictions for 2014, I figured it might be fun to take a quick look at the past nine years before we finish out my decade of Publishing Prognostication and Social Media Soothsaying. More fun than cleaning the house, right?

I’ve been very blessed to be right more times than I was wrong. I’d love to claim superpowers, but most of this is just doing what writers do—paying attention, using empathy, extending logic. Also, we are wise to seek out people smarter than we are. I know I do. I listened to bloggers, other experts, commenters and even self-professed non-readers, and they should have a lion’s share of credit.

This record of predictions is not an OOH, TOLD YOU SO! LOOK HOW AWSOME I AM! *OUCH I got a cramp patting myself on the back!* as much as it’s a poignant illustration how being present and engaged can give all of us tremendous advantages. When we try to automate the future or run our careers by remote, we lose predictive powers and become reactive instead of proactive. Our digital community is very wise if we are humble enough to participate, ask questions and then listen when they answer.

Thus, this 9-year list is to demonstrate that often, when we dare to be different, we will be criticized (often brutally), but our hearts, intuition and community can be pretty accurate guides if we stay the course ;)…

Nine-Year Record of Predictions:

Screen Shot 2012-05-04 at 11.05.40 AM

Big Six? Magic Eight Ball Says…

From 2004-2007, I predicted there would be a time when novelists could use social media to build a platform before the first book was even finished, and that this platform would eventually be a viable bargaining tool with publishers.

NUTSO. Burn her! She’s a witch!

I ignored the agents and writers who laughed at me and kept plodding away on Gather, then later MySpace and Facebook. I began using Twitter in 2008 because I felt this was a platform that would eventually change the way the world interacted. I hung out with all 20 other members on Twitter and waited, biding my time.

I also predicted that the same Digital Tsunami that leveled Tower Records would take out Kodak and then The Big Six.

Madness!

In 2008, I predicted that there would soon be a time that an author without a sound social media platform would be at a major professional disadvantage. Writers of The Digital Age had to have BOTH good books AND a sound platform. Good books alone were NOT ENOUGH.

What is she SMOKING?

If you peruse my archives, you will see many “sweet and thoughtful” comments by agents and authors regarding how I was an imbecile and writers only needed to write a good book. I was regularly informed I possessed the intellect of a brain-damaged monkey with a Valium addiction. Ouch. Agents (and writers) blogged left and right about staying off social media and focusing only on writing good books. Many indie author gurus preached the same.

I just said we needed both good books and social media.

I just said we needed both good books and social media.

By 2011, agents stopped leaving hate comments on my blog, likely because they were too busy googling authors to see if they had a viable social platform. Major NYC agencies began refusing queries if a fiction author couldn’t demonstrate he/she had a sound platform. Today? Most have changed their tune and come to accept that Digital Age Authors have to be balanced to succeed—good books, good business, authentic social media.

In 2009, I encouraged The Big Six to embrace e-books, because that year some of the first affordable and user-friendly devices hit the market and I really wanted the Big Six to enjoy a Golden Era again. Sure theses gadgets were still in the Early Adopter part of the bell curve, but I noticed the price of smart phones, tablets, e-readers and data packages was steadily dropping at roughly the same time. To me, this was a clear indication that e-books would eventually edge over into the fat part of the bell curve and become entrenched. Smart phones and tablets would soon be mainstream and people would be searching for content and entertainment.

Actual Agent Quote: E-Books will be statistically meaningless. Like everyone thought audio books would end paper, e-books are a fluke and people will always want paper books.

*head desk*

I suppose this is one of the reasons why we no longer have a Big Six. *shrugs*

By 2010, I predicted that authors couldn’t rely on price alone. Cheap books would only hold power so long before it devolved into a race to the bottom of who could give away the most stuff for nothing. The “shiny” of .99 books and FREE! would dull once everyone was doing it. Also, consumers would get frustrated downloading books rife with errors, formatting issues and bad writing.

Hmmm, looks legit.

Hmmm, looks legit.

I postulated that eventually readers would pay more for something they might actually read. I advised writers to use .99 and FREE! promotions only of those tactics served a long-term advantage. For instance, offer the first book of a series for free or .99 to encourage sales.

Still do.

Amazon permitted this deluge of cheap books because it was putting the hurt on The Big Six. I  theorized that once Amazon no longer considered Big Publishing a threat, it would reign in the freebies and the initial advantages offered to authors willing to hand away books. From 2012 to 2013, I noted the price of e-books highlighted on Amazon rise from .99-$2.99 to roughly $4.99 to $6.99, demonstrating Amazon’s strategy was paying off (this was right about the same time This Big Six became The Less-Big 5 and teetered on becoming The Spiffy Four). This was also when authors started seeing changes in how FREE sales were being ranked/weighted by Amazon.

In 2011, recommended that major publishers rethink pricing for the e-book. Charging the same price for an e-book as a hardback was bad business that would come back to bite them and only fuel the indie momentum they were trying to stanch. Agency pricing would put them in the crosshairs of the DOJ (which it did). Also, this ridiculous pricing was bound to drive the mid-list authors into abandoning the traditional ship and becoming indies.

Though I’d love to claim Nostradamus-like-powers, this isn’t rocket science. A best-selling author can only get so many ticked off one-star reviews for an overpriced $24 e-book before rethinking if the publisher is really making sound business decisions for that author’s present and future career.

This same year, I also railed against automation (and, frankly, always have). I knew that, as more regular people started using Twitter, they’d soon be able to spot bots and would come to resent and ignore them. I warned writers against these “time-saving” devices. My sentiment? It doesn’t take but a few moments to hop on social media and type a sentence.

We are WRITERS. 

I caught a LOT of heat over my attitude regarding automation and multiple accounts.

Then, The Boston Marathon Bombing tragically demonstrated the point I’d been trying to make for almost five years. Even well-crafted pre-programmed tweets are still SPAM. Our world changes on a dime and instantly. Many authors ended up in hot water because, “Buy my book, now FREE!” posted in the midst of a tragedy. And the time spent undoing the damage to the author brand probably exceeded that time “saved” by automating tweets.

YUM.

YUM….or not.

In 2011 and 2012, I warned against algorithmic alchemy. Amazon, Google, etc. knows when someone is abusing algorithms for any advantage. This is why they employ teams of computer experts who are tasked with changing algorithms any time certain users start gaining a manipulative advantage. Juking numbers only works short-term. There are better and longer-lasting uses of our time. Amazon now limits tags and penalizes abusers.

In 2013 I predicted a flood of mid-list authors would cut loyalty with NY and choose indie or hybrid paths. This is actually becoming more and more standard practice over the past year. CJ Lyons is one of many traditional authors who’s decided to add indie publishing into her career plan. When I spoke at Thrillerfest in NYC this past July, the CEO of AMAZON Publishing was the keynote. The hard line dividing writers finally began to crumble this past year.

I will post my predictions for 2014 tomorrow, but what I hope you take away from today’s post is:

If we aren’t failing, we aren’t doing anything interesting.

The truly successful are never too smart or too talented or too important to listen to others. 

Heat can burn us or forge us. If we dare to go against the majority, expect pushback. Often it’s a sign we’re onto something ;).

Never fear being wrong. It’s the only way to figure out what’s right.

We really can’t predict the future, only create it. So let’s create something AMAZING!

WE ARE NOT ALONE!

What are your thoughts? Have you been ridiculed but kept pressing? What are some mistakes you made, but what did you learn? I know I’ve made plenty and they taught me way more than success. What were some trends you spotted and maybe people thought you were nuts?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of December, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less). Comments for guests get extra POINTS!

I hope you guys will check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World and get prepared for 2014!!!!

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57 Comments

In the Age of Lightning Speed, How Can Writers Keep Up?

Image via Frank Selmo WANA Commons

Image via Frank Selmo WANA Commons

The Digital Age is moving at light speed and there is a new frontier WANA has set out to conquer—the writing conference. First, let me say there is no exact substitute for face-time, for an in-person conference. Yet, just because there isn’t a substitute, doesn’t mean there couldn’t be a supplement.

Publishing is transforming rapidly. Back in 2007, it didn’t matter if we could only make one, maybe two conferences a year. Publishing hadn’t changed all that much in a hundred years. Now?

Don’t…blink.

Facebook rearranges the digital furniture quarterly. Each social platform is constantly adding new features and removing old ones. Don’t get me started with algorithms. How do we use CreateSpace? How do we know what publishing option is best or even how to get started? Some of us don’t learn so well from books. We need face-time with good teachers and professionals who know what they’re doing because they’ve done it.

The Face of the Modern Writer…Times are a Changin’

Who is the modern writer? He looks a lot like the retiree on a fixed income, the mom juggling two jobs, or the Stay-At-Home Dad scrabbling for all the freelance work he can get so he has the joy of being with his children.

In a corporate culture that frowns on taking vacation (and is often stingier than Ebeneezer Scrooge with days off) how realistic is relying on a traditional conference? The economy is suffering and our money no longer goes as far.

Travel is now nothing short of a nightmare.

Arrive an hour and a half early. Get half-undressed. Wait for the TSA to swab snacks for bomb residue, and hope to GOD the plane doesn’t have mechanical issues because, with fewer planes in the air? We might not even make our destination.

Even if a conference is priced reasonably, air travel, parking, food, hotel, and time off work (and possibly babysitting) add up quickly. A $200 conference can become $1000 out-of-pocket quickly (or more).

Many writers have disabilities or health issues. Doesn’t mean they can’t write like the wind, but travel is a beating. I was once stranded in San Diego Airport for 15 hours with nothing to eat—made it home at almost SIX in the morning. Imagine if I was over 65 or in a wheelchair?

DELTA banned me from flying back in 2002 because I “was drunk” and stranded me in Atlanta. I wasn’t drunk, they’d checked the wrong bag, the one with my anti-convulsive medicine and then refused me access to my bag. I wasn’t drunk, I was having complex partial seizures (which slur your speech and affect balance). I’ve been a disabled person flying and it is NO picnic (and I boycotted DELTA for years over this).

I KID you NOT. They are checking my Vienna Sausages for bomb residue.

I KID you NOT. They are checking my Vienna Sausages for bomb residue.

Finding someone to take our kids for three to five days? A challenge even for the best of us. And though the conference is almost always an enjoyable experience, the travel alone can leave us feeling as if we’ve been tossed in a bag of hammers and shaken.

Thus, I started thinking about all the writers who were falling through the cracks, the ones in financial straits, the ones with physical or health limitations, the ones who were older, the writers who couldn’t easily get days off or find reliable childcare. Then what about the emerging markets in the UK, New Zealand, Australia? These countries have writers, but very few conferences. How realistic was it to expect someone to fly to the US from AUSTRALIA? Was it even necessary anymore?

In short? NO.

The Answer? WANACon

WANACon isn’t a glorified blog tour with a chat on Twitter. It isn’t a series of prerecorded classes. WANACon is the closest one can get to the REAL conference experience without leaving home. We had our first WANACon last February and it was AWESOME. I could make dinner and change diapers while listening to NYTBSAs teach me how to better my craft.

We had writers from Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Canada, Arab Emirates, all over the continental US and all in ONE PLACE…making friends and learning :D.

I could ask questions and interact real-time. For anything I missed? Recordings were (are) provided. I could lie in bed eating dinner and enjoy a nice glass of wine while learning about publishing contracts.

In a word? HEAVEN.

We are holding another WANACon October 3-5. The 3rd will be an evening session with me to launch and we affectionately call it PAJAMACON. PAJAMACON is to familiarize you with the virtual classroom (which was designed to home-school children and is super easy) and make sure we can head off any tech issues before the start of the conference.

Then, the next two days? DUAL classrooms packed with the best of the best. NYTBSAs, USA Today Best-Selling Authors, award-winning authors, best-selling INDIE authors, top social media experts, e-book and web site experts, and even AMAZON will be there.  I kidnapped recruited the head of CreateSpace to present. Some are returning speakers with new content and some are brand new presenters.

The coolest thing about all of them? They are freely offering their time to help writers and reinvent the writing conference.

All from home and now BOTH DAYS for $119.00 (Early Bird Special). We will have the official schedule posted this week, because eventually you guys can choose to attend PAJAMACON with BOTH days or PAJAMACON with the day of your choice. Yet, with the special? It’s $20 more and you get PAJAMACON and both days, so why not enjoy a few less Frappucinos and enjoy a REAL conference, the ENTIRE conference, from HOME?

TSA pat-downs can be provided, but they work for tips :D.

Hope to see you guys there, and contest winner for my monthly drawing will be announced Friday.

For those who attended WANACon, share your experience. Are you guys excited about trying something new? A conference that comes to you? For an idea of how WANACon looks/operates, check out this blog from February.

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Thrillerfest, The Publishing Apocalypse & Why Is There Cause to Celebrate?

My first signing at Craftfest. Um, never mind there are no books. I TRIED!

My first signing as a Craftfest presenter. Um, never mind there are no books. I TRIED!

Thrillerfest is a phenomenal conference packed full of experts and even heroes. It’s also a unique conference in that it takes place in NYC, right in the heart of traditional publishing. One of my major goals for WANA has been to serve writers—ALL writers. Publishing has been a One Size Fits All model for generations, and a lot of great writing has been collateral damage.

In fact, the paper-driven paradigm had driven many forms of writing to the brink of extinction—short stories, novellas, poetry, serials, pulp fiction, epic fiction, etc—simply because these types of works were a bad investment for a business that must turn a profit in order to survive and keep investing in new authors.

WANA LOVES ALL WRITERS

WANA has always made it a point to never make authors feel they needed to choose sides. Traditional is a better fit for some authors and indie isn’t for everyone. Self-publishing is far from a panacea. Each one has strengths and weaknesses and I explore that in Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World.

The key to building the perfect platform for your career is to make an honest assessment of which publishing path fits your personality, your work and your needs. WANA is not a Social Media Snuggie.

I’m a huge fan of the new paradigm, namely because we are seeing an explosion of creativity. New genres are being birthed and old forms are being resurrected. I’ve spent many, many blogs imploring NY to realize that self-publishing and indie publishing do not have to be enemies. Yet, last year I was excruciatingly frustrated when I returned from Thrillerfest.

Some people felt I was being mean in that post, but when you love something you sometimes need to be tough. Last year, when few seemed to be acknowledging the pink elephant (Amazon) in the room and some comments about self-publishing were utterly inappropriate, I was annoyed at the lack of foresight.

And, when I kept hearing mantras like, “E-books are a fad” “People love bookstores” and “Readers will always want paper”?

I wanted to scream.

Borders was already dead and gone and Barnes & Noble had been experiencing major losses. If things didn’t change? Authors would be hurt the most because (at the time), I believed leadership wasn’t looking ahead. They were too busy protecting what had always been.

I felt like Jerry MacGuire:

Help me, help you!

Thrillerfest 2013---Kind of a scary welcome. My blog wasn't THAT bad.

Thrillerfest 2013—Kind of a scary welcome. My blog wasn’t THAT bad.

“If You’re Not at the Table, It Means You’re on the Menu”

I read the above quote out of John C. Maxwell’s latest book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth. It really spoke to me and helped me realize the root of my frustration with traditional publishers over the past few years. They’ve consistently refused to sit at the table of the new paradigm and that meant they were on the menu (placing its authors on the menu as well).

The Publishing Apocalypse

A federal judge recently ruled that Apple illegally conspired with five of the six biggest publishers to inflate prices in the emerging e-book market. Apple will be disciplined and the big publishers are certain to take a hit as well, though actual damages have yet to be ruled.

While the big publishers remain insistent they’ve done nothing wrong, it seems unlikely they will take on the Department of Justice a second time. This means Amazon is poised and ready to absorb even more of the book market.

William Lynch, CEO of Barnes&Noble resigned early this month after devastating earning reports made it clear that Barnes & Noble was losing the battle to Amazon. Their Nook had failed to keep pace with other devices like the Kindle Fire and the iPad, despite B&N’s partnering with Microsoft.

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Aaron Charlton

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Aaron Charlton

According to the New York Times article by David Streitfeld, E-Book Ruling Gives Amazon and Advantage, “The verdict in the Apple case might have been a foregone conclusion, telegraphed by the judge herself, but it emphatically underlined how the traditional players in the book business have been upended. Only Amazon, led by Mr. Bezos, seems to have a plan. He is executing it with a skill that infuriates his competitors and rewards his stockholders.”

Barnes & Noble, upon Lynch’s departure, appointed Michael P. Huseby former CFO to CEO. Additionally, according to another recent article by Julie Bosman in the New York Times Chief Leaves Barnes & Noble After Losses on E-Readers“Max J. Roberts, the chief executive of the college division, will report to Mr. Huseby, while Mr. Huseby and Mitchell S. Klipper, the chief executive for the retail stores, will report to Leonard Riggio, the company’s chairman.”

These decisions hint that this is a likely a step toward “separating the digital and retail divisions, as the company has indicated it might do. Barnes & Noble has been in talks over a potential sale of its digital assets, as well as its 675 bookstores.”

What Does This Mean?

All of this points to an ominous sign that the bookstores likely will be broken up, which is why I’ve been adamant that writers (and traditional publishers) stop relying so much on the brick-and-mortar-model, since it was clear from history (Tower Records & Kodak) that these retailers would likely experience record contraction or go away altogether.

(I doubt bookstores will disappear completely just reinvent as I mentioned in this post last year The WANA Plan to Save Bookstores & Revive Publishing).

This has been another reason I have been passionate in my crusade to educate writers how to create an author brand on-line using blogging and social media. If the bookstores go away or shrink to the point of inconsequence, our only lifeline for success is the Internet.

Historically, bookstores have been the main hub where readers discover authors. That has completely changed. If we fail to appreciate this, we plan to fail.

After All of This, Why Was Thrillerfest So Encouraging? Welcome to the “Lifting of the Veil”

Rather than bringing in a big publisher to talk about favorite books and ignore the consumer landscape, ITW (International Thriller Writers) recruited Russ Grandinetti, Vice President of Kindle Content and Kindle Direct Publishing to speak. They also invited Createspace to be an active part of the conference and allowed ME to teach blogging at Craftfest, which shows they are looking to the future (or that they need better security :D).

Grandinetti’s speech left me in tears.

FINALLY!

Grandinetti spoke about how it is a brilliant time to be a writer and how traditional and non-traditional don’t have to be adversaries (Sound familiar?). By using the new tools available, authors (even traditional authors) can keep fires burning with fans in between books and help big publishers reinvent and become more profitable.

Authors are now free to write serials, shorts, prequels and maybe even try new genres. Authors can stretch as artists after being in a severely restrictive business model for so many generations. We now are seeing the emergence of the hybrid-author, just as indie giants like NYTBSA Bob Mayer predicted years ago.

(And a major reason WANA never chose sides. I always believed one day they might work together).

I nearly passed out when mega-author-legend David Morrell asked for help understanding how to improve his metadata and when Anne Rice spoke about her love for Facebook. The energy this year was completely different. Rather than attending a wake, it was like attending a baby shower. The excitement for the future was palpable and it was a joy and it was an honor to witness this.

*and the choir sings*

Yes, an apocalypse can mean destruction—destruction of outdated operations, old thinking, ineffective models—but like a forest fire, an apocalypse also opens room for something new and vibrant and even stronger to emerge.

The fact that the biggest authors in the business were now looking at new ways of doing things? *happy dance* Finally, everyone agrees that stories and information, authors and readers are more important than keeping the status quo. YAY!

We are in scary but wonderful times and no matter which path you choose to take, please know two things:

1. ALL authors need an on-line platform.

2. It is the best time in HUMAN HISTORY to be a writer.

I knew NY had it in them. And, though the judgement against Apple and the major publishers does have a dark side (namely that competition keeps markets healthy), we can at least rejoice in this awakening and hope this leads to improved business creativity. Hey, NYC can learn a lot from writers :D.

What are your thoughts? Do you feel encouraged? Overwhelmed?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of July, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NOTE: My prior two books are no longer for sale, but I am updating them and will re-release. My new book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE.

Also, Remember there is a class on Antagonists THIS Friday (recorded if you can’t make it). Use WANA15 for 15% off.

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59 Comments

Let Them Eat Cake—The Slow Death of The Old Paradigm Author

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Portrait of Marie Antoinette via Wikimedia Commons

Three days ago, The New York Times published a rather doomsday on-line article written by Scott Turow (current head of the Authors Guild), titled The Slow Death of the American Author . I must admit this is a great title, guaranteed to scare the pants off the best of us. In fact, I received so many frightened e-mails from writers who wanted me to address this article, that I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer my analysis of Turow’s assertions.

Turow is Absolutely Correct

There is a slow death of the American Author…of the Old Paradigm.

What Turow doesn’t appear to grasp is that technology, particularly communication technology exacts sweeping cultural change that cannot be reversed (short of war or global apocalypse). Most modern humans aren’t going to trade in their flatscreens and XBoxes for a “good old-fashioned story told by the fire.”

“Technological change is neither additive nor subtractive. It is ecological. One significant change generates total change.” (Postman, Technopoly, 18)

To Everything There is a Season…

The bard slowly disappeared with the invention of the printing press. Those who were good storytellers had to learn to write them and publish their stories if they hoped to make a living.

Storytellers who wanted to continue standing on corners reciting epic tales (as had been done for centuries) eventually came to the hard realization they’d been replaced by a paper book that could be read by a cozy fire. No more invitations to wealthy homes to tell tales (for pay).

Rich people were too busy reading novels.

If storytellers wanted to eat and pay the bills, they needed to pick up a pen and put it to paper. They had to change the way they’d always done business if they wanted to succeed survive.

The Death of an Era

The American Author, as Turow understands it, writes books, relies on an agent and publisher, and trusts to earn as many royalties as possible from as many sources as possible. FREE! is anathema and social media is too plebeian…and yes, these types of authors are slowly dying.

What Turow is failing to understand is that the fundamental job expectations of the writer has transformed in the Digital Age. This is one of the largest reasons I encourage authors to engage on social media, to blog and create a platform that regularly interacts with fans (and recruits new ones), and to learn the business of their business.

When we create a community on social media, not only will fans buy books full price but they will also be some of our fiercest watchdogs for piracy. I’ve had many author friends who discovered their pirated work from a fan and, subsequently, were able to take action to have the pirated work removed.

Let Them Eat Cake

But I know authors of the old cloth who rail against technology. I’ve met too many of them. When I mention engaging on social media and talking to regular people, they curl their lips and sneer, “I don’t want to talk to anyone. I just want to write” (actual conversation).

Doesn’t that make you want to hand this person money?

We’re in a tough economy. Money and time are scarce. Yet, there exists this old literary aristocracy who cannot be bothered talking to us lowly proletariat (code for “readers”), because it might “steal time from their art.”

Here’s the thing. If we expect people to support us, give us money and time they don’t have, the very least we can do is talk to them and have a good attitude about it. 

Pirate Insurance

In the Digital Age, the best way to generate sales, decrease piracy, and translate FREE! into a sale is to be active on social media and engage. All this costs is some extra time and genuine friendliness. Yet, I find the authors who howl the most about the evils of FREE! and who are the most concerned about being ripped off are the same ones who grouse about  “having to actually talk to people.”

And if I hadn’t encountered this priggish attitude so many times, I wouldn’t bother mentioning it. Yet, this starchy thinking is not unusual among the Old Paradigm Author. They denounce social media, criticize e-books, and wail about the evils of Amazon.

Yet, strangely these authors never seem to question why the Publishing Monarchy hasn’t parted with more of the spoils. In this new age (where e-books cost so little to produce) why are so many of the traditional authors still the ones who are paid the last and the least?

Viva le Roi Vive le Revolution!

We are in a Revolution. In the Old Paradigm, the reality of life as a writer was nasty, brutish and often unfair. A small few enjoyed the fruits of being real writers. There was the small percentage of those whom the Publishing Monarchy granted titles and access to court (literary contracts), while the regular serfs in the field accepted their lot (“aspiring” writers who gave up and returned to the day job).

A handful of the writing majority worked tirelessly in hopes they, too, might earn invitation to join the upper crust of being “published.” Once the writer gained access, he could scrabble up the ranks list for a chance at earning his writing royalty title #1 New York Times Best Selling Author.

And these types of promotions into Publishing Aristocracy happened with enough regularity to keep the dream alive among the masses and prevent all-out revolution. Additionally, without a real invitation from court (a publishing contract), there was no other way to “make it” as a writer. Self-publishing was mocked as a false coat of arms and regarded with general disdain.

It’s a Contract, Not a Panacea

In the Old Paradigm, a publishing contract had the power to get a writer’s foot in the door, but was hardly a magic bullet for success. Only a very small handful of writers earned enough to quit the day job, and most of the wealth was held by a tiny top tier percentage. There was a weak and struggling author middle class, and the rest of us were literary serfs dreaming that one day we’d live like the author on the hill.

I don’t say this with any judgement. Before the Digital Age, there was only one way to make it. The New World had yet to be discovered…

The Winds of Change

Then with the advent of social media, e-books, and other digital tools, suddenly the entrenched power structure could no longer keep tight control of the industry. We writers no longer had to rely on favor granted by the Publishing Aristocracy, because they no longer held sole keys to the kingdom (publishing and distribution).

The Digital Age has created a robust bourgeoise of writers who are a hybrid of artist and innovative, hard-working entrepreneur. This new bourgeoise embrace FREE! and harness it to power future sales. This new breed of author is as creative in business as she is in her novels, and she works the crowds like she’s our near and dear friend (not pouting like a debutante required to do community service).

As Mike Masnik from Tech Crunch states in his blog Author’s Guild’s Scott Turow: The Supreme Court, E-Books, Libraries and Amazon are All Destroying Authors:

If you’re an author earning nothing at all, then you’ve got bigger problems than technology. It probably means you’re mired in obscurity and no one knows who the hell you are.

On top of that, it means you’ve done nothing at all to connect with your fans. Because we’ve seen authors who actively encourage the piracy of their books, but who also work to connect with their fans, and have seen their sales go way up, because those fans want to support the authors.

The new Digital Age Author understands that blogging and tweeting are hard, but they also appreciate that these are the very activities that the amatuer is too lazy to do and what the old aristocracy is too good to do.

The Author of the Digital Age refuses to accept the 93% failure rate of the “good old days” and he boards the rickety boats and sets sail for the New World, knowing that while it is full of danger, blistering work, and uncertainty, there is also vast treasure to be discovered.

The Age of the Author

People are reading more now than ever in human history. They are craving and consuming information at unprecedented rates, and it is an amazing time to be a writer. But the old business model is crumbling. As mentioned in Nathan Bransford’s blog, In the Future, Will Everyone Be a Publisher?, big publishing is atomizing.

The power structure is caving. The parties are no longer as lavish, and the court doesn’t dress nearly as nicely as they did in the publishing heyday. BUT, for the first time,  authors (especially fiction authors) are making a really good living doing what they love—WRITING.

While Turow wails that authors are dying, he seems to be forgetting about Barry Eisler who famously turned down a half million dollar deal with his publisher to go on his own. Turow is also apparently unaware of the many successful self-published authors who’ve translated successful e-book sales into favorable print deals with traditional houses. He looks all too unaware of the astonishing success of publishers who’ve passed up the old business model and innovated to keep pace with a new culture.

An Age of Freedom

These days authors no longer have to accept whatever deal NY offers. If the author doesn’t like the terms, she can partner with the emerging digitally savvy publishers who “act more like partners than gatekeepers” (Masnik).

The Bottom Line

It all boils down to this. The world has changed. There is a new paradigm and it’s birthing a very new type of reader who has very different expectations. This, in turn, has altered our job requirements if we hope to be successful.

Yes, it is more work, but the odds of success are far higher. The Old World had 172,000 books published in a year and 160,000 of those sold less than 1,000 copies (per Book Expo of America stats 2006—pre-e-book explosion and social media saturation).

Welcome to the New World of Publishing

The New World, however, is ripe ground for the author-entrepreneur. Fiction authors are now making enough to write full time. Many are making six and seven figures, a pay grade once relegated to only a handful of the upper crust.

BUT, there is a cost.

In this New World there are few existing structures and many of the rules have yet to be written. We are setting foot on wild shores with no blacksmith or stables. No established farms or existing housing. We are responsible for building it. 

The authors of the old model can learn from the passionate and generous indie entrepreneurs. Publishing houses can innovate. IT IS A GREAT TIME TO BE IN PUBLISHING. Yes, we all have new roles and more work, but the good news is…WE ARE NOT ALONE.

To end with a little laugh, some Mel Brooks…

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of April, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of April I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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161 Comments

Big Six Publishing is Dead–Welcome the Massive Three

The Reader of the Digital Age–Trust me, he won’t miss paper.

Ah, the times they have changed. The year was 1983 and life was good. Summers filled with trampolines, swimming pools and evening walks to the snow cone stand. Cartoons were only on Saturdays, and if we stayed up too late playing Bloody Mary and toilet-papering the neighbor’s trees and overslept, we were out of luck for another week.

Music stores were a rare treat, a place to spend birthday money or blow our allowance, and a Fox Photo Hut graced virtually every grocery store parking lot. My mother would always turn in the film and then the car would break down and we’d run out of money. No one knows how many of my brother’s baby photos were lost.

What did they DO with all those pictures people couldn’t afford to pick up?

Who would have thought that one day, everyone would walk around typing messages on a phone? Or taking and then sending pictures with that phone?  Who would have believed that a computer company would be a larger distributer of music than Tower Records? That car stereos would stream tunes from satellites floating above the Earth’s atmosphere? No more cassette tapes. Who could have envisioned a day that Kodak would be a memory and a home telephone an anachronism?

It is an amazing time, and I can say that Star Trek fans did envision a lot of these changes. Yet, even when we see it coming, it is very surreal to see it actually here. As an avid Trekkie, I do like to think of myself as a Futurist, so today we are going to indulge my future vision.

The Big Six have a new problem…Microsoft.

Yes, it does look like Microsoft is what is going to save Barnes & Noble’s tails. From this article by Felix Salmon on WIRED:

Barnes & Noble has sold a 17.6% stake in its digital and college businesses to Microsoft, for $300 million — a deal which values B&N’s remaining 82.4% stake at $1.4 billion. And while the $300 million is staying in the new joint venture and therefore not available to help the bookstore chain with cashflow issues, the news does mean that Barnes & Noble won’t need to constantly find enormous amounts of money to keep up in the arms race with Amazon. That’s largely Microsoft’s job, now.

So why is this a problem for the Big Six?

The same reason that Apple (a computer company) was a problem for Tower Records, that Sprint (a cell phone company) spelled death for Kodak and that Amazon (an on-line distributor of everything from camping equipment to push-up bras) gave Border’s its mortal blow.

The Big Six are dead. Welcome the Massive Three. More on this in a moment…

The past ten years have been nothing but market Darwinism. The slower species who refused to adapt to the new climate after the comet strike (birth of the Internet coupled with an affordable personal computer) are now being devoured by the faster, hungrier and more agile creatures.

Notice Tower Records, how it defended how music-lovers, “would always want CDs and music stores.” Instead of realizing it was in the “music business” not the CD business, it stood there, dumb and immobile…..*munch* then the Appleosaurus Rex ate it whole.

Then Kodak stood looking at the shiny black hole that was its business plan. It put both feet in and got stuck. Sprint flew out of the sky and took chunk after chunk while the Kodak beast cried foul. “People will always want film pictures!” it wailed as it bled.

All the Kodak beast had to do was grab the digital stick, but it was too stuck. Soon the other digital predators smelled blood and the parsed the Kodak beast until it finally died in a pool of red.

Now we come to the book distributors and publishers. “People will always want paper!” they cry, even as they can smell Border’s bloated, dead storefronts rotting in the sun.

I think the metaphor is clear.

Amazon took out Borders and gave Barnes & Noble a nice flesh wound. The Amazonasaurus also took a nice chunk out of the Big Six. B&N and the Big Six need to ask the hard question.

Will people really always want paper? Did they really always want records and CDs? No. Did they really always want film? No. The view from the cave is nothing but a graveyard of former giants, bleached bones from the rulers of an age that has passed.

Adapt or die is the message. Ah, but the Big Six could have a problem.

See Barnes & Noble has proven it can scrabble with the best of them and even get in some sucker punches below the belt. They had no problem devouring the indie bookstore when it suited them to claw their way to the top of the food chain. Now that it has partnered with Microsoft, should the Big Six be worried?

My opinion? YES.

Barnes and Noble likes being an apex predator. It got a taste for being on top in the 90s, and, make no mistake, it longs to revive the glory days.

Who can blame them?

If I were the Big Six, I would worry big time. Why? Because, the only disposable part of this relationship is…the publishing houses.

I have to say, my hat is off to B&N. That company has moxie. I’ve blogged a number of times how the Big Six should have revisited its relationship with B&N. Once books went digital and e-book sales took off, propping up a paper distributor was just a bad plan.

In my blog Bracing for Impact–The Future of Big Publishing in the New Paradigm I said there was really no reason that the Big Six couldn’t sell directly to the consumer and just distribute the books themselves. I advised that they make the move and go digital. For paper? Focus on POD technology, the consignment model was too inefficient.

Hmmm, a fan of this blog sent the link to that post to the CEO of B&N. Curiouser and curiouser…

I LOVE NY publishing. I have consistently tried to help them. With the model I proposed, New York would never again have wasted money on books that didn’t sell. They could have ruled the Digital Age well. The Big Six would have only sold books that, well…sold. And in my model, they could have partnered with Barnes & Noble and done it together.

Ah, but B&N has a new friend, and you know the saying, “Two is company and three is a crowd.”

Some see Microsoft’s investment as a good thing for publishing. Finally, Amazon is going to get a run for its money. Not only does the Nook now have the backing of the Windows giant, but now consumers don’t need to buy an e-reader to have one.

Now an e-reader will be built into every Microsoft operating system. Kindles and Nooks will eventually be for only the die-hard fans, because readers won’t really need them (kind of like cameras were replaced by our cell phones).

Amazon has been able to gain market share by capitalizing on its Kindle. Ah, but that was before the Microsoftisaurus decided it wanted to get into the publishing business, and, Barnes and Noble, being the crafty survivor, made a big new friend a bad new digital world. Microsoft is investing because it just makes sense.

Amazon shouldn’t be the only one reporting record gains each quarter. While the Microsoft-B&N deal is serious bad juju for Amazon, I think they will weather just fine. Amazon is the very definition of “adaptable.”

I have consistently wondered why New York didn’t grab hold of e-publishing. Why couldn’t the Big Six open digital divisions? Why didn’t they seek out Microsoft? Why couldn’t Random House have a self-publishing division that allowed authors to upload e-books for sale (um, like B&N’s PubIt). Then they could vet out authors, and only “officially” represent those authors who’d met a certain standard (X amount of sales).

I know this new world seems very strange, but it seems as if computer companies are destined to rule the Digital Age, which I suppose only makes sense. It has a bit of poetry to it if one thinks about it.

The Big Six, in my opinion, are in big trouble, because they really are no longer…necessary. This doesn’t make me at all happy to predict. I’ve tried and tried and tried to help, but to no avail. The Big Six might remain for a few more years, but frankly, what advantage do they hold? What do they really have to offer other that a crap load of overhead?

Sure they have a love for the written word that the new giants don’t possess, but then again, Kodak held an unrivaled passion for photography and that didn’t save them from the iPhone.

No matter what way I look at it, I can’t see how the Big Six can remain relevant. The Windows has closed, pardon the pun.

Literary agents and editors have home mortgages to pay, and they’ll go where the money is (and NY is hemorrhaging cash). No one can fault them for wanting to eat and be able to put braces on their kids’ teeth. Cover design? I think Microsoft can handle finding a graphic designer or two.

Oh, and then Microsoft doesn’t have to build in stratospheric Manhattan rents and horrific costs of shipping paper into the book price.

NY once had a sole lock on distribution. Well, that went away. Then, they were the Gatekeepers who offered us the promise of a certain quality (just ignore the Snookie book deal).

Yet, indie has really changed. Some of the best books are coming out of this movement. Additionally, some of NY’s best talent has defected (Bob Mayer, Joe Konrath, and Barry Eisler to name a few) and more are bound to follow. Authors are getting tired of the depressing odds of success in the traditional paradigm, and instead of NY offering its authors a bold new plan for the future (like partnering with Microsoft FIRST), it comes up with brilliant gems like “agency pricing.”

Oh, and then there is the new talent, the fresh ranks. Unpublished writers are seeing their friends self-publish and make thousands of dollars a month and that is very appealing. Logic dictates that some of the best writers who work the hardest and who are the most professional might just try it alone first.

Writers now don’t have to keep querying and hope for gatekeeper approval. We can go to the reader and try our luck there. We might not make enough to live off at first, but, frankly, the slush pile doesn’t give us gas money.

*waves to Amazon*

What I don’t understand is that these companies don’t seem to grasp that the nostalgia card only plays so far. Microsoft understands what the Big Six doesn’t. People won’t always want paper. They want to push a button and a have a book delivered quickly and cheaply from outer space.

In a world where gas is $5 a gallon, why would we want to fight traffic across town to go to a physical bookstore? In a world where we can have hot yummy pizza delivered to our doors in 30 minutes, why would we wait a week for a book in the mail?

Really.

So what do I see? Instead of Big Six, we now have the Massive Three–Apple, Microsoft and Amazon. Amazon likely will open physical bookstores (probably in old Borders storefronts). And Microsoft will just use B&N to sell paper and maybe some Nooks. Yes, paper will always be around, it just won’t be the lion’s share like it used to be.

And writers? We are artists and they will always need us to produce the content. We have to adapt as well and this is why I have dedicated the last few years of my life training writers for the Digital Age. It is a WONDERFUL time to be a writer.

Welcome to the future. Beam me up, Scotty!

Okay, so what are your thoughts? Does someone see what advantage the Big Six still holds? How can they pull out of this tail-spin? Do you think I am wrong about the Massive Three? Is this a good thing for writers? Is this bad for writers?

I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of May, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of May I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note–Will announce the winner Friday. Thanks :D .

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.

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249 Comments

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