Books written by Ray Sullivan

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Role of Publishing Houses in the New Publishing Economy - Part 2

It should be clear from my last post that I'm not anti-mainstream publishing industry - frustrated and disappointed sure, but I'm not unsupportive of them either. But I'm not sniffing around for a publishing contract either, partly because I don't think the mainstream publishing model is right yet.

What the last few years has shown is that people like myself can get our books out there and some have done quite well without the support of the mainstream, on their own. Most, of course, don't do so well, but if you recall my last post I'm quite critical of the results in the mainstream also, given the decades of experience and the premiums they charge. It's pretty clear that unless you have obtained celebrity status through any other medium than writing you are going to have an uphill struggle anyway.  I guess the question is this: is the obsession with celebrities-turned-writer driven by the industry or the reading public? Is there an element of both?

I can intuitively support the second notion, but that is literally a gut reaction. Before parting with hard earned cash most of us want to try and ensure we're trying to get some measure of value. Paying mainstream prices for a name you've never heard of is a leap of faith that many of us are unlikely to make readily. So we will go for the safety shot and if our favourite thriller author hasn't produced something recently and we have an urge to read, then second best has to be a name we know. I know it's a flawed argument on so many levels, however judging by the contracts flying around and the celeb authored books popping up, especially at this time of the year, it must work to some degree.

I also doubt that process is sustainable in the long term, but will inevitably always form a part of the buying public's options. This blog, though, is about how the mainstream publishing industry can recover from this brave new age.

If we look at the two competing models that exist today, Mainstream versus Indie publishing we can see some critical variations.

In the mainstream the Author/Publisher relationship appears somewhat Passive/Aggressive.  Authors write, wrestle with editors, capitulate and hand their book over.  Except for limited launch activities where the Author may undertake some promotion work before getting back to writing her/his next blockbuster.  The publisher takes care of the details such as designing the book cover, writing the blurb, setting up the ongoing promotion.  In part this has worked very well for a long time.  After all, publishers have always had constraints on the number of books they could publish at any given time due to the economies of book production.

In contrast the indie author sorts out the editing, cover design and particularily the promotion of the book itself.  Some do all of these things particularily well, others do some well and I guess there's a few dogs out there in Indie world as well.  The majority of these tasks are one-off (per book) activities that absorb a finite chunk of time, but the promotion is an area that the author has to invest increasing amounts of time in.

I've discussed physical marketing in an earlier blog, such as business cards for handing out, and alluded to other forms of advertising which, given the returns on many ebook sales, is very much a financial gamble.  Many authors invest in electronic methods of getting the word out. 

David Gaughran runs an excellent blog closely focussed on the ebook industry while gently nudging his increasing readership towards his published works.  He's also active on social media such as Twitter.  Another author, Rick Chesler, also uses Twitter as a method for promoting his books, much more aggressively than David but additionally intersperses his promo tweets with links to subjects he's passionate about (he's a marine biologist by day).   And of course some authors blog about random ebook, e-reader, techno subjects while serialising the odd forty chapter parody.  It'll never catch on.

In the New Publishing Economy I see a convergence of the two approaches where a symbiotic existence can be forged.  I think Publishers and Authors, newbies and the famous few alike, will all work harder but there will be a better, more equitable playing field for all, especially consumers.  I'll outline my world vision in the next post.

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