My theme: Writing and the business of writing.
[I know, I know, I’m running a day late again! Please be patient, I shall attempt to catch up soon.]
Before the ebook revolution, the only route writers (like me) had for getting their work published was through an agent and a publisher. If your book sold a certain amount of copies (I guess 1,000 would be a good number for a first book), the publisher would buy the author’s next book. If the first book didn’t sell well, the author would be dropped first by the publisher and then by the agent. (Unless the book won an award, in which case sales would be boosted anyway.) In a worst case scenario, a first novel might not even make enough money to cover the advance which the agent had negotiated for the author. If you happened to be that poor author, you’d pretty well know your career as a writer was over. No-one in the business would touch an author who’d lost a publisher money.
If a writer didn’t want to go the traditional route (or had lost all hope after having received enough rejection letters to paper the walls of the office), there was an option to self-publish. This used to be called, rather nastily by the establishment, Vanity Publishing. There were a few presses who’d charge thousands of pounds / dollars, promise editorial and marketing support, and produce a (often an inferior looking) book. I’m sure there were some successful vanity books out there, but I wager that most of the copies produced ended up in the authors’ garages and cellars.
When Kindle, iPads and other reading devices came onto the market, and Amazon et al established their publishing platforms, many authors realised they could get their books straight to readers with a much smaller investment. With Amazon and Smashwords, authors also got a larger share (up to 70%) of the book than with a traditional publisher. Suddenly self-publishing became Independent Publishing and authors began making money without the help of the ‘old’ establishment.
Finally last year, the success of 50 Shades of Grey really made the traditional publishers and agents take notice. They began to sign up authors who’d made money out of their ebooks. It’s strange how a few spondoolies make people change their minds about something as unspeakable as Vanity Publishing?
Today more and more ebooks are being read and published. Digital book sales continue to grow rapidly each year, as does the number of Independent Authors who are making good money out of their writing. Some of these writers are declining offers from agents and publishing houses, preferring to remain in full control of their careers. They can decide what to write, how the cover looks, how much to charge for their books and how many titles to publish each year. At the same time they get to keep a larger proportion of their book sales.
If your books sell well, why would you need a second and third layer between you and your readers?
As the balance of power in the industry shifts, what happens to the writers? Are Independent Authors leaving themselves unprotected, since they’re not receiving the technical and legal knowledge agents usually provide? Or the moral support they give their authors? Or are these just fabricated reasons to make money from an author?
There are now so-called ‘hybrid’ agents and publishers who take on just the physical book rights of an Indy Author, while the digital rights remain with the writer. This, as I discussed before in my post under agents, is the ideal situation; an almost ‘eating your cake and having it’ -scenario for a writer.
Many members of the one-year-old Alliance Independent Authors believe that the future is going to be very bright indeed. As the organisation grows, it also gains more power. In the various ALLi forums, there’s talk of establishing a quality mark of some sort, as well as discussions on whether Indy Writers should be included in the annual awards circuit. At the moment independently published books do not qualify for literary awards like The Booker or The Costa.
I’m not sure I wish to write off agents and publishers quite yet. At the same time I am really, really enjoying being my own master. (See that fence?)
During next week’s London Book Fair, ALLi Founder and Director, Orna Ross, is speaking at Digital Minds Conference and other LBF seminars, and an ALLi guide to publishing services is also going to be launched.