Matilda is the co-author of Rosie’s Daughters: The “First Woman To” Generation Tells Its Story. She’s also a writing coach and helps women tell their life stories in her classes on women’s memoir writing. She has published more than 50 articles about women, contributed chapters to published books about women in education and work, co-authored the award-winning book Women and the Mass Media and co-edited the book Knowledge Utilization Systems.
A Tale of Two Authors, Part 1
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us...”Ask authors and most would agree that Charles Dickens’ words could just as well characterize the Publishing Revolution as the French Revolution. Even “Off with their heads!” as pronounced by the Queen in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is only slightly too strong of a characterization of today’s publishing environment.
Publishing Revolution in Progress.
Yes, writing is only one of the concerns of authors. Publishing is the other major issue whether this means getting a few copies for family and friends or reaching the bestseller list. If you’ve been following Straight from Hel this week, you already know that Helen Ginger is moderating a publishing panel at Story Circle Network’s Stories from the Heart Conference in Austin next week, February 5 - February 7. I hope many reading this blog are getting ready to pack their bags and head to Texas. If you haven’t signed up, there’s still time. But whether you are or aren’t, if you’re a writer you’re concerned about the state of publishing. And yes, sometimes publishing seems like it is its own nation-state, definitely a foreign country to many.
I’m fortunate to be on Helen’s panel, and she asked the panelists to write a guest blog on her site to discuss some of the publishing issues as we see them. I’m doubly honored.
I thought one way to approach this topic of Getting Published would be to look at two authors to see how they are reacting to this Publishing Revolution because just like the French Revolution, it’s possible to lose your head if you don’t act wisely.
But first, let’s do a round up of a few recent events and statistics. I’ll list the item, and you decide whether this is good news (the best of times) or bad news (the worse of times):
1. There are almost 200,000 new book titles published each year.
2. 80 percent of all books sales flow through the coffers of just five companies -- Random House, Time Warner, Disney, Viacom/CBS and Rupert Murdock’s News.
3. The six biggest publishing conglomerates are: Random House, Penguin Putnam, HarperCollins, Holtzbrinck, Time Warner, Simon & Schuster.
4. In November of last year, book sales increased by 10.9 percent and were up almost 5 percent for the year.
5. Between 8000 and 11,000 new publishing companies are created each year.
6. 27 percent of Americans didn’t read a book (2007). [So much for thinking “everyone” wants to read my book.]
7. 913 popular, copyrighted books were illegally downloaded 9 million times during the final months of 2009.
8. Trade e-book sales were up almost 200 percent between November 2008 and November 2009 (approximately $18 million for November 2009).
9. The self-publishing industry is estimated to grow about 30 percent per year.
10. AuthorHouse published approximately 1 of every 20 new US books in 2008.
Wow. That’s a lot to take in. What does all this mean? Like everyone else, I’m not sure. I do know that the publishing industry is in a turmoil right now. Established publishers are closing their doors or merging at the same time that new publishing companies are being founded. Bricks and mortar bookstores are going out the business at the same time that Internet book sales are soaring. Paper costs as well as shipping costs are soaring at the same time that electronic delivery of digital books is coming into its own.
What’s an author to do? This is a big topic and one that Kendra Bonnett and I will be exploring all year in our weekly blogs about Book Business over on our Women’s Memoirs website. In this post, I want to explore the various options open to an author and consider the tale of two authors.
Here’s my list of six options. Someone else will have a slightly different list, but I hope these are useful distinctions:
1. Traditionally, authors have looked toward the big corporate publishers. There was a time when you could meet an editor at one of these houses or even send a book proposal that would be reviewed. That was before you “had to have an agent” to represent you. Many of these big publishers have now been gobbled up by even larger corporations. It’s getting harder to get in the door, but not impossible. Because these companies need to keep an eye on the bottom line, they are certainly less likely to take a new untested author unless she brings something special. These days that frequently means more than a strong manuscript. It also means an audience, a following that will buy your book.
2. Just down in size are medium-sized independent publishers. This is the group I used to know quit well. I say “used to know” because many of them are gone. It’s hard to even find their ghosts on the Internet. Because I had good relationships with several of these publishers, I went looking for them a few years ago. I wanted to see if they’d be interested in a book idea I had. They are just gone with no trace left behind. There continue to be some of of these medium-sized independents, but many were bought out when publishing had its own bubble and everyone wanted to buy publishers.
3. Academic publishers are another avenue for writers. They have good credentials and are able to get to certain markets. They are usually wonderful to work with. Unfortunately, their business model means they will price your book too high for the typical reader.
4. Small independent publishers are gaining in stature. Because they are small, they take an active interest in their authors. Many of these are regional or focus on a specific niche. If you can find the right one, and there are many more “right” ones in this pond than in the other publishing ponds, you are likely to develop a good relationship and be pleased with the outcome. Don’t look for big advances although some offer small ones. You’ll still need to bring your willingness to market your book. We always recommend that authors explore the option of these smaller independent publishers before they consider self-publishing.
5. Self-Publishing is an option that doesn’t require an agent, doesn’t require much up-front money, but does require due-diligence. There are a number of companies in this category, and some have strong track records while others do not. Some make it easy to have your book on Amazon at a discounted price while others don’t. Some offer flexibility in the price you charge while others don’t. If you want your book out sooner, if you know your marketplace, if you want control over the look of your book, then you may find this to be a good option. There is absolutely nothing wrong or inferior with this option. We only recommend exploring the smaller independents first because they usually have more to offer you -- an existing catalog, a customer base, an active website for promoting your book, suggestions for how you can market your book, etc.
6. Becoming your own publisher. This is the ultimate in self-publishing and not for everyone. You can set up your own publishing company for your own book or books. You could even join with several other interested authors and create a single publishing company that will bring out all your books. This means you need to be willing to learn the basics of publishing -- buying your own ISBNs, finding a print-on-demand company (POD) that will print your books even one at a time or in small numbers, determining distribution channels, etc. These can all be learned. The Internet is a wonderful source of information and practical advice. Not for the faint of heart, but this option assures complete control and the possibility of the greatest revenue. Remember, I said “possibility.”
A Tale of Two Authors.
Okay. Where are we? We have a publishing revolution afoot. We have more options for authors than ever before. What is realistic to expect, and what’s likely to happen? Kendra and I provide coaching to authors and talk with even more authors. Needless to say, we’ve heard a lot of stories. To conclude this post, I’m going to aggregate some of the stories we know into two author profiles. Then, if you’d like to follow me over to our Women’s Memoirs website, I’ll share a real-life tale of two authors. One squanders her opportunities while the other is making good choices and still learning.
Composite Author #1: Let’s call her Abigail. Her story is short and not-so-sweet. She met with me while I was serving on the Ask-A-Pro session at a writers’ conference. She wanted my advice on how to find a publisher. I started by asking her to describe the audience for her book. She replied, “Everyone.” I said, “No, really. Who do you see reading your book? Who will find it of interest?” She repeated, “Everyone.” I said, “Do you mean six year olds? Men in their nineties?” Finally, we worked out a likely target audience for her memoir. Then I began to talk about the realities of publishing in order to determine what types of marketing she was willing to do. She said, “I don’t want to do anything. I want a publisher to do it all. I’ve done my part. I wrote it.”
Well, you get the point. To the best of my knowledge she has never gotten her book published. If you were a publisher would you want to take on her book?
Composite Author #2: We’ll call her Joanne. She began writing her memoir three years ago. At first, she worked on her own, but then joined a writing group. Sharing exposed her to new ideas about her writing and helped her start to think about the readers for her book. At the suggestion of one of the group’s members, she started a blog. The blog gives Joanne an opportunity to relate some of her stories. She has many and can’t possibly put them all in the book. She considers these her out takes and gladly shares them. In the process, she’s building an audience for her writing. It is still small, but it is a start. She’s now on FaceBook and has just converted from a personal page to a professional page. In the future, this means she can be more open about promoting her book. It’s on her list to begin building a presence on Twitter. She has limited time for social networking so she’s trying to do a good job with a few rather than spreading herself too thin. Her book? It’s almost finished. She is currently looking for an editor in order to give it the final polish it needs. During that time, she’ll devote more energy to her blogging and to building an audience. She’s realistic about how much marketing she’ll need to do. She knows she won’t make much money, but thinks she can build a place for her book so that she’ll have success.
Conclusion. I started with a Tale of Two Cities and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The first of these depicts the power of the peasants and the second suggests the power of the monarchy. As we begin the second decade of the new millennium, we see evidence of both of these models. Authors have more power in the form of more options today than we have ever had. Even more options are on their way, including multimedia books for Apple’s just announced iPad that will generate opportunities for new creativity and new business models. At the same time, a few publishers still hold considerable power in the marketplace.
At this point, authors need to be informed and find the best options for them.
Hope you’ll join me for A Tale of Two Authors, Part 2 where I’ll share stories of two authors we know.
Thank you Matilda.
You can find Matilda Butler over on Women’s Memoirs, of course. And also on FaceBook and the site Rosie’s Daughters. Please leave a comment or a question for Matilda before you link over to read Part 2 of this great post.