The Possible Publishing Future for Authors

There are certainly a lot of directions publishing can and will go over the next few years. The DoJ suit and settlement is just another in the ongoing tumultuous changes hitting the publishing industry. Where it all settles out down the road remains to be seen, but I find myself thinking that we (as writers at least) could be heading toward one particular future which I have very mixed feelings about. That future is one where the bulk of adult fiction (I can’t speak for non-fic and children’s books) is self-published.

There a few things that must happen for this future to evolve of course. Amazon’s ability to subvert publisher profit margins will have to continue. More importantly, publishers will have to continue their stubborn adherence to minimizing author contract terms in relation to what is available via self-publishing. In the early years of digital, publishers ability to provide greater dissemination of product trumped the ability for authors to make it with any reasonable amount of success in the market. As the growth of digital sales has grown however, that ability to get a book beyond the digital space has dwindled in significance. The sales base within the digital space has become significant enough to support the midlist author (given they go about things the right way). Publisher’s leverage with authors is going away, and the tradeoff between services offered and the price paid is becoming less and less of a deal.

So, let’s assume for the moment that this issue continues in the years to come. Eventually, it’s not hard to imagine, that authors will come to view paper publishing as something of a bonus. Digital sales will become the primary avenue of sales and paper will be the exception, reserved for best-selling authors. Publishers will be forced to turn into a pay for service company for the bulk of authors, who will be doing everything on their own, making all of their own publishing decisions, and more significantly, retaining all of the rights to their work.

On the one hand, this is a great thing for writers. Retaining the ability to dictate how/where/when/why your work is published is a powerful tool for success. On the other hand, it’s also a problem for the very same reason. You are left with three options:

  1. Become adept at doing everything yourself. If you don’t have the resources to acquire many of the needed services needed to get a book published, such as editing, cover art, copy editing, formatting, etc., you have to do it all on your own. Very few people will be able to do this. It requires a very large skill set and a lot of extra time and energy to learn how to do it well.
  2. Hire the needed services. You can easily find people and companies that will do all of these services for you, but they cost, and we’re not talking a couple hundred bucks here. This can easily run a couple thousand or more depending. Again, not a huge number of writers fall into this category either, but honestly, if you want to succeed and produce a quality product, this is the likely avenue you will have to travel down.
  3. Exchange the services for profit. As opposed to turning over rights to a publisher for them to handle everything and give you a small slice of the pie in the end, this is where I can see big changes coming. I can see a future here where you turn over a sizable chunk of profit in order for the publisher to provide services. Depending on what services you need determines how much profit you are going to give up. Obviously, if you want them to do everything, you’re going to pay quite a bit for it. There are a lot of “what if’s” here, but I can see the tables sort of flipped here, where the author as publisher gives profits up to a certain cap, and then the service company gets royalties on the work for a given period of time. Foreign rights becomes another service authors have to pay for. The more you want, the more you pay.

In the end, this future turns into the vast majority of authors are on their own. Much like traditional publishing, this bodes well for those with the talent, persistence, and resources to do it. Before you pretty much had to write a damn good story and work on some social media skills. As we go forward, the talent will still rise to the top, but for a variety of different reasons beyond just the ability to write well. While that still forms the foundation for any successful author (and I suppose that could be debated too), you better be able to either have the financial resources to handle your product or the ability and where-with-all to become good at the growing array of requirements needed to make it as a do-it-yourself author.

I like the notion of a profit-sharing model. In the fiction world this means no more advances. I like the idea of retaining my rights and doing with them as I see fit. I honestly don’t want to have to do everything myself, and I don’t have the resources to hire out the services I would need.  I’m willing to give out pieces of the pie for assistance in getting my work out to readers. What I don’t like, is the the growing notion among many new writers that the editing/copy-editing/cover art process for a book is something of an afterthought, as though it’s not really needed. You could make the claim that many readers don’t notice the difference, that covers don’t matter. There are certainly a ton of examples of this in any digital bookstore. The claim wouldn’t be valid if there there weren’t some people making money this way.

Down the road, if this future develops, we will have a far bigger pool of self-published authors out there. Hopefully, the digital marketplace will figure out a better, more efficient model for making readers able to sort through it, because right now it sucks and is only going to get worse. Good books will be lost in the pile as much so or even more so than they are now. Finding success will not be any easier than paper publishing. The only difference will be that authors have to do even more work and invest more resources to try and make it happen. Some relish this notion and love the idea of authors being their own business. It’s kind of the American way. For most, it will be an exercise in frustration and futility much like it is now. Do you want the burden of success entirely on your shoulders? Or would you like an environment where you can share this load? I hope for the latter. I don’t mind being in control of my business as it were, but I would like the ability to delegate those aspects of publishing that I am not adept at, with people willing to share the financial responsibility for a slice of the pie. I hopeful publishes will eventually begin to innovate in this direction.

What do you think? Happy reading/writing everyone!

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