As a reporter and a fiction writer, the transformation of the traditional publishing industry has been fascinating.
A mere 15 years ago, the Internet was considered an afterthought for newspapers, and no one would have guessed it would eventually sound the death knell for brick-and-mortar bookstores such as Borders.
I remember when Amazon first proposed the idea of electronic books through the use of a Kindle when I was a sophomore in college. I thought it was a curious novelty. It didn’t occur to me at the time what sort of upheaval such a device had the capacity to cause on the industry.
I recently was given a Kindle Touch for Christmas, and already I can tell why people are so enamored with it. Compact, light, it carries around dozens of books within the space necessary for a small notepad.But, more importantly, it has changed the way people look at book publishing.
Many authors who once spent years trying to convince a literary agent to represent their book, and then more time to obtain a deal with a publisher, can now have their book available to just about anyone in the world at little to no cost.
There are, however, plenty of downsides to self-publishing and e-books, as I myself have found out. If you can publish, anyone can publish. Whereas in the past literary agents and publishers performed the role of gatekeepers to what books came out, the gates have been thrown back, allowing just anybody to become an “author.”
Yes, it has allowed many good authors to get their books published. It has also permitted people who have no sense of literary talent whatsoever to get their book published, when it should have remained on their shelf to collect dust.
And the problem is it is impossible for readers to swim through the ocean of titles and locate quality books, unless the author invests plenty of time and money into marketing their novel, which leads to another problem. Often, a bad writer can gain attention because they have the cash to blow it on, while a broke, but excellent writer remains relatively unknown.
And then there are writers like myself, who have neither the money, nor the self-promotion skills necessary to successfully market our work. We also don’t have the money to pay a copy-editor to edit all the minuscule mistakes we missed during our 35 revisions.
And frankly, I believe there is a true need for gatekeepers, because there is no way for an author to truly know if their writing is good or poor. Just because your mother loves your novel, which sounds eerily similar to Twilight, doesn’t make it worthy of a reader’s money and time.
Despite all the raving about Kindles, however, I still think there is a demand for hard copies of books. For example, it’s hard to showcase your original edition of a favorite novel when it’s sitting on a hard drive inside of your Kindle. It’s also hard for authors to hold signings for their books if they are sold electronically.
My prediction is that within the next 20 years, most books will be sold purely on an electronic format, and the publishing industry will have shifted dramatically over to marketing and promotion. When they sign deals with authors, they will promote their e-books through advertisements and use their professional contacts to get newspaper and literary reviews. They might possibly have the book available for publish-on-demand, because in that situation there will be no financial risks, since the book is only published when it is purchased by a customer.
There will still be traditional books, however, except they will be reserved for those which the publisher believes will sell enough copies to bring them a specific revenue percentage after the costs of publishing are taken into consideration. Essentially, the authors who sell millions of copies will still be seen in grocery stores and small bookstores. For the majority of authors, who sell around 3,000 copies, they will be confined to Kindles and Nooks.
As for myself, I am not particularly worried or concerned, as I write for my own enjoyment and fulfillment.
If a publisher ever happens to find it worthy of a reader’s eye then it’s simply an added pleasure to a personal passion.