First you hear to traditionally publish, then you hear that self-publishing is the way to go. Print will always be the best, then e-books are vastly outselling physical books.
With Borders out of business, Barnes and Noble following, and who knows what going on where actual publishing companies and agents are concerned, it’s a very relevant question: What is REALLY happening in the publishing industry, and what does it mean for writers?
Though I don’t really have an answer to this question, I will give two answers actual authors I have met in the past month have given to this question, and why I think one of them might be right.
Firstly is one Joyce Carol Oates, famous writer of a variety of fictional works, writing instructor at Princeton University, and winner of several life-time achievement awards in the work of fiction. These credentials, of course, mean that she is excessively well-versed in the publishing industry. She’s published time and again, and with much success. What did she say about the idea that e-books might put print books out of business?
Well, of course, e-books would never fully replace print books, she said. The great masterpieces of print wouldn’t likely have been made, she argued, if all they’d had to show for their work was a digital copy, and not a massive tome of paper and cover and binding that would fill bookshelves and be collector’s items, of sort. Similarly, she said, the great directors weren’t likely to put as much effort into their works if all they had to show for it was simply a inch-by-inch screen version.
I’ll talk about my thoughts on this later, and she was thoroughly, if a bit inarticulately, lambasted by a student who felt that she was completely wrong.
The second writer was one Amy Sterling Casil, well known to the Claremont Colleges, as she was a distinguished graduate of Scripps College, which was why she was there giving a talk during Parent’s Weekend. The talk was about, naturally, the way the publishing industry is heading.
Very simply, she was of the firm belief that non-traditional publishing, as it is often called today, is the way of the future. In fact, if she’s right, it is not too far off to be the only way of the future, and that the traditional publishing houses and the agent system are relics of the past, eventually to die out as self-publishing and e-publishing overtake them. In such a world as this, Smashwords, Amazon, and iTunes are likely to thrive, as well as the likes of Kobo and Diesel. Conglomerates of authors working together to benefit from each other’s publishing strengths and boosting each other where one has a weakness are not only advisable, but the most logical, profitable strategy for all parties. If one is good with covers and a friend a crack-hand at formatting, why not give each other a hand to save time and frustration?
I did tell her about what Joyce Carol Oates said, and we both agreed that she, herself, is a bit of a holdover from that previous era of the traditional workhorse that is finally meeting its end. After all, she was born in the thirties, published quickly out of college. Of course to her it seems that the physical book is the best representation of a work. However, Dickens wouldn’t necessarily agree, living in a time where the serial publication was king. We’ve already seen that publishing format die out, effectively. Why is it so strange to think that traditional publishing will die out too?
That’s not to say that I won’t try to be traditionally published, at least once, before the ship sinks. It’s a vestige of my childhood that I feel is an important part of the cultural history that will be studied by future generations, just as we study the serial today, and I want to be a part of it. But Natalie and I have already started talking about creating our on author conglomerate to help each other in the world of self-publishing, as well as our own literary magazine (because we’d be great at it). Sticking a toe on a sinking ship isn’t so bad. Jumping onto it when the dock is still very stable is foolish.
I’m preferring, at this time, not to put all my eggs in one basket, but I do think that self- and e-publishing are the way of the future. But just in case I’m wrong, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared for traditional publishing sticking around, now, does it?
What do you guys think? Where will the publishing industry be in the next ten, twenty years? How are you preparing for this?