Nearly ten years ago I published my first book through what was then a relatively new and emerging market of internet-based publishers. Better known as self-publishers. While simplifying the publishing process, and getting one’s book “out there” beyond boxes in the basement, one would still get the raised eyebrow and asked, “Is this self-published?” Historically, if a book didn’t have a name-brand publisher on it, it wasn’t worth reading. Or so the reigning perception went.
Much has changed in ten years.
Self-publisher imprints have exploded. The internet allowed them to transform a market (self-publishing) once seen as having no profit potential and driven by vanity. Then something else came along: ebooks. Now a author didn’t even need a self-publishing house. Yes, from the beginning, the on-line self-publishers could get your book in distribution networks and virtual bookstores like Amazon. Getting them into physical stores wasn’t happening. Ebooks changed this by putting books into the hands of people faster and cheaper. Sure, clicking on a button to order a physical paper book or ebook takes the same expenditure of energy. However, ebook readers (i.e. Kindle) made it so convenient for people to read and find new books, independent writers could get equal footing with major publishers.
Even as traditional publishers fight to regain market share against Amazon and ebooks, there is still people on both sides espousing the benefits of one publishing model over the other. Yes, one can still secure success in traditional publishing. But just as happened with music and film, publishers are taking notice because indie authors have proved they can succeed. Of course, there is much opposition to it, which is understandable. Whenever an institution that has existed for decades suddenly finds itself challenged, it wants to defend itself.
There has been plenty of success and failure on both sides. Walk through a bookstore and find many books you have never heard of and may never seen again. Just like blockbuster movies, only a few get prime time success. Nor is being billed as a blockbuster the same as being one. How many have bombed? High costs of production mean studios have had to diversify, with many creating indie labels. Will publishers also change?
The movie world really isn’t that different from the publishing world. Bookstores are full of different quality books. There are many truly good and many truly bad out there. Many good or excellent books get lost in that sea where only the big ships get the big send-offs. What is different is that publishers have been slower to embrace the indie field than their music and film counterparts. Also, while indie movies still benefit from big studio distribution, indie authors are bypassing the traditional publisher architecture altogether. Small press publishers are popping up left and right, basing their models on self-publishing. Can legacy publishers change?
They are, slowly. They are buying the works of indie authors. They are reworking deals to be more author-centered. Why? The prime argument of indie authors is that they keep the majority of control of the rights to, and revenue of, their work. Many readers are surprised how little authors often make. It is rarely a get-rich-quick scheme. It is common knowledge that it takes a number of published books before most authors quit their “day job.” I predict change will quicken. The shock of the collapse of Borders and Amazon selling more ebooks than paper has blown the clouds away.
There is a lot more to be said on this changing landscape, and others have: “10 Reasons You Should Skip the Traditional Publishers and Self-Publish Ebooks,” “Publishing is Broken, We’re Drowning In Indie Books – And That’s A Good Thing” and “The New Vanity Publishing: Traditional Publishing,” among others.
The traditional market does work for some people. Most publishers and agents don’t wake up wondering which author they can hose next. Will a traditional approach work for my next project? I don’t know. My point here is that publishing is changing, whether some like it or not. It is changing fast and the next year or so will see even more reinvention. If publishers make the changes that match what makes indie publishing attractive, will this indie revolution die down? Maybe. Until the next revolution.
In any case, the authors win.
P.S. In my own early experience, I had hoped to use the self-publishing model to promote my book to other publishers. Part of the problem was the youth of the early self-published, indie market. Also, I don’t think my book was quite ready for print. I’ve since updated it (through another “self-publisher” through which it is currently available) and will soon re-release it (after some final refinements) into new ebook world (though, personally, I still rather read paper). I will then largely leave the world of nonfiction and focus on fiction. What model of publishing, or new hybrid of, will I pursue this time? Time will tell.