Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The Future of Publishing

OK, I better kick this off by saying that I am in no way shape or form an expert on publishing so all the thoughts expressed here are simply the disinterested observations of an onlooker. But in case you hadn't noticed the times, they are a changin'.

A year ago most of my online writer buddies were in the same boat as me: seeking representation, hoping to be published through a traditional publisher or perhaps a smaller indie. We had been subbing for a good while, posting work on peer review sites and struggling with rewrites to get the book into an attractive enough shape to sell. We'd agonise over synopses and query letters. We'd moan about the rejections and get excited when a new agency/publisher appeared on the horizon.

Then along came the Kindle and now the landscape has changed beyond recognition. Most of my buddies have been taken up by e-publishers or self-published on Kindle. Instead of posting about ways to improve their books they are getting on with the next one. Instead of posting chapters for peer review they are endlessly promoting their published books. Some say that is the arduous part of the process; plugging to within an inch of their lives. Because with so many e-books out there, you have to shout very loud and jump very high to be noticed among the crowd.

So what is to become of the old order, now e-books are the new craze? There are already signs that agents are losing out and with so much up and coming talent rushing to self-publish a la Amanda Hocking their pool of available talent must be shrinking. I see new authors join up on writers' boards, not for advice on submitting to agents but how to best put their book out there. And without any filter there must be a lot of poorly written fodder hitting the internet. The new Slush Pile is online and who has the time to sort through the chaff? This was traditionally the agent's job and now they're being bypassed.

Some agents are turning overnight into publishers, putting their clients' backlists up for sale. Not surprisingly this has caused some controversy as it's clearly a conflict of interest. But it begs the question: in this new Kindle age what exactly is the role of the agent?

Well it seems to me their skills are still needed, perhaps more than ever. Writers need good editorial advice, marketing know-how and contacts in media to help them produce great books and get them to as large an audience as possible. I don't know how this will all play out but it will be interesting to watch.

And here's an up-beat and informative post from Alan Rinzler at The Book Deal on this very subject.


Rosalie Warren said...

Speaking as a novelist who has found myself three publishers but no agent (as yet), I'm not sure how I feel about all this.

I love the sense of freedom thatthe prospect of e-publishing gives me as a writer. I'm writing an SF novel that's quite unusual in form and I'm doing it because I *can* - because I know I can publish it myself, and the taint has really gone out of self-publishing now. Of course I'll have to worry about selling it - but that's true when you have a publisher anyway - at least a smaller one.

I agree, though, about good editing advice and quality control. Perhaps a new role will develop - editor/agents who give editing advice and take a cut, while the writer is the actual publisher, if you see what I mean.

Sandra Patterson said...

Yes, I do Rosalie. That's the real issue - who is the "publisher"? On the face of it everyone can publish now, but in practice it's as hard if not harder to reach a large audience. Interesting times indeed.

Lynette said...

The only agent I've dealt with was polite and prompt. But, I've always been shocked at how terse and rude many agents and editors are (even in their blogs) towards their suppliers (writers)—as if writers were little more than necessary, not very bright, nuisances.

Perhaps as agents and editors redefine their roles (and possibly deal with fewer authors as more writers opt for self-publishing), they will stop talking down to writers and complaining about their workloads, as if writers are enjoying life on Easy Street.