Friday, October 7, 2011

How to Prepare for the Inevitable (Publishing) Apocalypse

posted by Saul

(to be read to R.E.M.'s It's the End of the World as We Know It playing in the background)

What will publishing look like in the future? Hell, what on earth will it look like next year? Nobody knows. So, how do writers prepare for it?

By listening to the message and ignoring the hype.

I had originally planned to talk a little bit about my specific self-publishing marketing plan today, but after a week and a half in the tropics doing research on my upcoming YA short story collection Zombies in Bermuda Shorts, I decided to do something a bit less serious (yes, the research was serious; for example, I found out zombies love shrimp cocktails) and talk about the state of publishing, since there seems to be a hell of a lot of arm-waving going on right now that would put the Wall Street protests to shame if it weren't being done in private writer cubbies all over the world.

But the arm-waving has been going on for months, you say. Yes. Yes it has. But it also seems to be getting out of hand. So to speak. I mean, to the point where I think we all need to back away a little and let the dust settle a bit. And focus on the important things.

The reason this popped into my brain this morning is because NPR's Morning Edition did a piece on Barry Eisler's decision to step away from legacy publishing (or traditional publishing, or trade publishing, or non-vanity publishing, whatever you want to call it). It wasn't so much a "Look What's Happening to Publishing" expose as it was Barry launching his book tour for The Detachment, though that's how it came across. The book is published by Amazon's Encore Imprint, which isn't exactly trade publishing, though it isn't exactly self-publishing, either. Anyway, when he made the decision to break ties with traditional publishers back in March, the writing and publishing world took notice: here was an established writer with name recognition stepping out on his own. There was handwringing. There was teeth gnashing. People said it was the end of traditional publishing.

But it wasn't. Well, not yet, anyway. Maybe that's what the Aztecs were talking about with regard to 2012. Eh? Probably not.

A lot of people said he'd be sorry. Indeed, his sales, at least as I understand them, did drop. But I doubt he's sorry. He can absorb the setback. He's a big name; that's his platform; that's what sells books.

But, oh, the poor publishers, others wailed. Such betrayal. Did publishers worry about this sudden defection? Did they get empty nest syndrome? No, of course not. They have more than enough chickadees to keep the place warm and bustling.

For a while.

Or so that seems to be the crux of the matter for a lot of people. Other traditionally published authors are stepping away, too, going the self-pub route (or some other variation of it). Will trade publishers collapse under their own weight if there's no one will to write for them?

Honestly, I don't think that's a realistic scenario.

So, what is the noob writer to make of all this? Should we stick with traditional publishing or abandon it? Should we get an agent? Do we even need one? And what about those agent-publishers?

Well, if you listen to Joe Konrath, you'll be led to believe self-publishing isn't just a panacea, but the book world's salvation. It's the ONLY logical choice. Better catch that train while it's still chugging somewhat slowly down the tracks to the future because it's picking up speed fast.

I don't disagree with Konrath. He makes a logical argument. Especially when he says ebooks aren't a bubble. And I think he's an extent. Traditional publishing won't go away, but it will change, and what those changes will look like is anybody's guess. Nor would I be sad if, say, Konrath's prophesies for the most part came true (many have already). Big6 publishers have created this mess with poor decisions layered over exploitative practices wrapped in monopolizing control. Writers have toiled--nay, slaved--under such conditions for far too long. But publishers aren't all bad. They're just flawed. Their business models are flawed. Deeply, seriously flawed. They need to change.

And they are. It's just too early to know how much and in what ways.

But if Konrath is out there trying to urge folks onto the self-pub bandwagon, there are others (whom I shall not name, but if you've been paying attention you know who they are) who use abject terror to scare unsuspecting writers to flee traditional publishing. Beware! Fear is their platform. They're not using it to simply recruit self-pub masses, but as some sort of strange self-validation of their own paranoia. And to sell books. I know abject terror when I see it. I know fearmongering. As a horror writer, fear is my bag. And, hey, I don't blame these people. Fear creates great buzz and we all know buzz sells books. The problem is, it's easy to buy into their message: they're right on so many accounts that it's hard not to pick up the pitchforks and join the village mob against that Frankensteinian machine known as the Big6.

Resist the urge.

My advice? Read a lot about the industry, but don't believe everything you read. That's how you prepare for the future of publishing. Keep an open mind. Know that the industry is in a highly unstable state of flux; tectonic plates are shifting all over the place. The best way to keep your footing is by writing well, soliciting good feedback and knowing what you write. That's always been true; it's truer now than ever before. Above all, treat writing as a business. And if you decide to go indie, educate yourself. Don't take it lightly. Or, if you choose to stick to traditional publishing, know what you're in for.

And don't panic: publishing may be changing, but writing isn't dying. There will always be a need for storycrafters.

Bottom line: it's not the end of the publishing world...though it is the end of something as we know.

And you know what?

I feel fine. And so should you.

Saul is an author of speculative fiction for teens and adults. His short stories, The Headhunter and A Thing for Zombies, are available from Amazon and are selected singles from his upcoming short story collections. The Object of her Affection will be out October 14, 2011. His post-zombie dystopian, Touch, will be self-published in May 2012.
Available from Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble and other ebook distributors.


  1. Interesting post.

    I haven't considered self-publishing, but I see others have been successful at it. But many have also been unsuccessful. I think it works for some, not everyone. Either way, with self or traditional publishing, writers need to study the craft, polish their work, and come up with a strong end-product. And of course they need to keep abreast of publishing.

  2. Thanks, Medeia. Not everyone is cut out for self-publishing, just as there are those whose works don't fit into traditional publishing catalogues. With freedom of choice comes responsibility. Thanks for stopping by.