Last night, I gave a presentation at the monthly Publish! Blue Mountains meeting at the Clarendon Guesthouse, Katoomba.
I was invited to speak about epublishing, to share my thoughts and experiences, and so I took to the stage armed with my demonstration tools: an 800gm paperback book, a 150gm Kindle, a 450gm NOOK Color, and a modestly evangelical attitude toward this brand new age. I was joined by a colleague-in-arms, the down-to-earth and honest, soon-to-be-epublished J-L Heylen, who followed me with a compelling discourse on why epublishing was her route of choice, not her default ‘I can’t get a publishing deal’ fallback decision.
|J-L Heylen in her steampunk Sunday best
I should have had an inkling of what to expect. After all, I’d devoured Catherine Ryan Howard’s article on low ebook pricing and knew that not only ‘traditional publishers’ but ‘traditional authors’ (i.e. those who have been published ‘traditionally’, as in print, through a publishing house), are edgy about epublishing. And I can understand why – major change is always disturbing – so it surprised me to see a traditional publisher and a traditionally published author in the audience last night, when it had been marketed as an evening about epublishing.
But after all the shouting (well, not really shouting, in the end we all pretty much behaved ourselves, but you could certainly feel the temperatures rise), I drove home thinking, ‘Damn them! Traditional publishers have no right to get angry about epublishing!’ And do you know why? Because it’s not like they couldn’t see it coming. It’s not like they wouldn’t have seen it in other industries over the last 60 years. But rather than deal with it, the great majority just stuck their heads in the sand and hoped it would go away. And now that ignoring it will no longer work, instead of embracing it and making it their new direction, they’re still trying to make it fit their outdated business models. The publisher last night talked about giving 25% royalties to their authors on sale of their ebooks. Wow – 25%?! Must sign me up with that publisher – NOT!
I mean, seriously – what’s one of the first things any business coach worth their salt will tell you? Innovate or die. Today’s traditional publishers are clinging to the past and, as a result, are rapidly dying.
We saw it in Hollywood in the 1950s – the studio system broke down as the stars began to realise that they were the asset, notthe studio, and began to insist on doing things on their own terms … and now the studios no longer control the actors.
Then, we saw it in the music industry – over more than three decades, starting with the release of the cassette recorder in the late 1960s/early 1970s. Not long after that, the introduction of the CD drove many vinyl record pressing plants out of business, then Apple introduced iTunes in January 2001 … and now the record companies no longer control the musicians.
So I have little sympathy for the traditional publishers who have anger towards epublishing. They can see only too clearly – now that they’ve lifted their heads from the sand – that they will no longer be able to play God, no longer be able to send 999 reject letters for every one that says, ‘Yes, we deign to pick YOU!’ They are faced with people who will now epublish rather than paper their walls with rejection slips … and now the traditional publishers no longer control the writers.
And that seemed to be one of the things that steamed out of the underlying frustration of the traditional publisher in the room last night – her lack of control over what was happening around her.
Yes, traditional publishers offer a level of support to writers that they often don’t bother seeking themselves when self publishing – but only to those writers lucky enough to get a contract! The publisher of the traditionally published writer in the room last night refused to publish his book unless he made certain changes to it, as suggested to him by their editor. After three months of resisting, he decided to do it their way, and as a result, his book was a success, and he went on to win a $15,000 literature prize. I lowered myself to snidely congratulate him on getting a publishing deal, because truly very few are so lucky. JK Rowling was knocked back a dozen times before Bloomsbury took on Harry Potter – which just goes to show that, like the record company that knocked back the Beatles – it’s all just a guess. No-one reallyknows who’s going to be the next big thing.
So why shouldn’t Joe Public have a go themselves, via epublishing? There are plenty of freelance editors, cover designers, ebook formatters around just waiting to help him get it out there.
And whether he takes their advice or not, the book could be brilliant or it could be crap. And if it’s crap, it won’t sell, right? And if it is crap, and it does sell … well, who decides what’s crap anyway? Oh, sorry, that’s right – traditional publishers do!
Opinionated blogging. It’s at the top of the page.
Despite my adoration for the eword, I still believe in print books. I just believe that no book should be printed until it proves itself worthy of a dead tree and all the fossil fuels required to ship it around.
Boring disclaimer bit:
I have generalised (a bit) here, based on last night’s experience, attendances at annual Institute of Editors Conferences in 2009 and 2011, a seminar by the APA in August 2010, and a fair bit of blog reading that I’ve been doing lately. While I admit that not all traditional publishers have had their heads in the sand, the Australian publishing industry as a whole has been really, really slow to embrace epublishing, to the detriment of our writers and readers.
So, to traditional publishers out there who have been releasing ebooks since at least 2009 (the year we at MoshPit Publishing released our first ebook), my apologies.
To the rest of you, get your act into gear!