Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Update

I forgot to post the link to my recent interview at the Indie Books Blog, so here it is. I owe them a huge debt of gratitude, along with all the other bloggers out there who are making this Indie thing happen. The stuff going on in this business right now is history in the making. Recently, several big-name authors have walked away from major publishing contacts to join the Indie movement. One author most of you have probably heard of, Amanda Hocking (see links) has just signed a multi-million dollar contract with a major publisher. This is after going Indie because the publishing world refused to take her seriously. Best of all, she didn't do it for the money. Amanda's books have made her over two million dollars since she decided to self-publish about a year ago, most of that within the last four months. She didn't need that contract, and the only reason she took it was because she's tired of doing her own covers, editing, and publishing. She just wants to write. Don't we all?

I commented on this subject on the Kill Zone blog (see my links section) the other day. I'll try to summarize it here the way I did there:

Big publishing companies have enjoyed a monopoly in the business for decades because they control distribution. No one outside of the Big 6 gets their book in WalMart, or Safeway, or Borders. Up until recently, there was only one way to become a professional writer: Sell a book to a major publisher, and then settle for 15% royalties (and give 35% of that to a literary agent). That's all changed now, and what we're seeing is very similar to the heyday of pulp fiction in the early 1900's. The pulp area came about because the technology to produce books (printing and paper) became extremely cheap. For the first time, it was possible for anyone with a middle-class income to have their own library of paperbacks. Publishers found themselves scrambling to keep up with demand. They put out cattle-calls in magazines and newspapers, begging new authors to come work for them. They published just about everything they could get their hands on.

And a lot of it was crap. There was very little editorial oversight, the art was quickly and cheaply produced, and the writers were producing low-quality works as fast as they could type. But ironically, a lot of last century's biggest names owe their careers to that period. Many of them published hundreds of books between the 1920's and the 1960's, and went on to become some of America's most celebrated authors.

Jump forward to this century, and the digital revolution. With the advent of the Kindle, the Nook, and other similar technologies, it's easier and cheaper to produce a book than ever. In fact, the majority of books being published this year will never see print in any significant way. Print is now a way for an author to subsidize his brand... to make his books available to the stragglers who don't yet own an e-reader. The print market is drying up faster than anyone imagined it could. Brick and mortar bookstores are going out of business left and right.

Obviously the best thing publishers can do right now is to embrace this technology the way they did with pulp. They can snatch up aspiring authors by the thousands, give them a worthless contract for a share of the profits, and publish their books in about an hour. It's a win-win situation. Struggling authors get a break. They get a real honest-to-God contract. They might even make some money. In the meanwhile, they'll be building a career. AND Readers get thousands of new, cheap books.

Only that's not the way it went down. Publishers saw this coming a few years ago. They moved quickly... in the opposite direction. They shut their doors to new authors. They dropped their midlist authors like bad habits. They put all of their money into pushing crappy celebrity books, and fixed their prices on e-books to a minimum of $9.99.  No kidding. In some cases e-books from the Big 6 cost $15 or more -more than their  paperback counterparts.Meanwhile, thousands of writers are now without work. Thousands more are desperate to pursue their dreams of being published, and there's nowhere for any of them to go.

And along comes Amazon. And I think you know the rest of the story.

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